Gatherings & Celebrations: Easter in Florence - #120

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  This is the city of Florence, and I have come here to celebrate Easter.  Now, there are thousands of cities around the world in which Easter is celebrated, but I have chosen Florence because this city has a very special historical relationship with Easter.

The ancient Etruscans settled in this area about two thousand five hundred years ago, but the official date for the founding of Florence is usually given as 59 B.C. That was the year that the Romans built an old soldier’s retirement home on a patch of land that is now the very center of the city.  For the next thousand years or so, the region was a minor agricultural community, but in the 11th Century things began to pick up.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Unfortunately, during the 11 and 1200’s the wealthy guilds and powerful families became extremely competitive. They also got into the bad habit of expressing that rivalry by murdering each other.  Not good for the general commercial climate.  And so a new form of competition had to evolve, and that became  “business”  -- still very competitive but a lot better than murdering each other in the street.  Over the next hundred years or so, the old challenge, “My Sword Is Bigger Than Your Sword,” slowly became “My After-Tax Earnings Are Considerably More Substantial Than Your After-Tax Earnings.” And that evolved into the most acceptable  form of challenge, which was “My Basilica Is Better Than Your Basilica.”  Slowly, military might gave way to artistic competition.  And it was that artistic competition that was responsible for a lot of  the great art during the Renaissance.  By the 1300s Florence was the richest and most artistic city in Europe.

The works of Donatello, Brunelleschi, Fra Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, the magnificent paintings, the frescos, the sculptures, the extraordinary architecture of Renaissance Florence all came into being as the result of the unusual relationship among the City Council, the church, and the business community.  The City Council or the clergy would decide on a specific undertaking.  The City Council would raise the funds for the project by setting up a tax.  Then the council would give a particular guild or commercial organization the responsibility for executing some aspect of the project.  One group might be responsible for the doors. Some other association would be given the roof.  The council also gave the guild most of the money for the project. The guild would hold a competition for the best artist with the best idea.  The guild would then coordinate with the Cathedral’s Office Of Works in order to get the task done properly.  The Cathedral’s Office Of Works was set up over 700 years ago and it’s still doing its job.

It was the guild devoted to items of luxury that took care of the world famous doors on the Baptistery.  A guild also oversaw the creation of Brunelleschi’s dome on top of the cathedral.  This unusual relationship involving the church, the trade associations, the aristocratic families, and the artists produced some of the most powerful graphic images of the Christian tradition.  The pictures that come to mind when we think about almost every story in both the Old and New Testament Bibles are images that were originally created by artists working in Florence.  And that makes it an ideal place to take a look at the gatherings and celebrations, rituals and recipes of Easter.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Most ancient societies that had a barren winter and a rebirth in the spring also had some kind of a celebration to mark the return of the growing season.  The ancient Greek goddess of agriculture had a daughter.  During a period each year that daughter was held in captivity.  When she was released, and only then, did the growing season begin.  The idea of the resurrection of a beloved child as a mark for the return of spring goes back to our earliest information about religion.  Easter is part of that tradition but it also has many of its roots in the Jewish holiday of Passover.

An equinox is a 24-hour period when the length of the day’s sunlight is the same as the length of the day’s darkness.  There are two of them each year.  One in the fall and one in the spring.   Passover is held on the night of the spring equinox.  It reminds the Jews of their escape from slavery, and their passage out of Egypt. It tells the story of the last of the Plagues, which struck down the first-born of the Egyptians but “passed over” the children of the Jews. The passover meal is a meal that brings together lamb, which is a symbol of the nomadic life, with yeast-free bread, which  is a symbol of agriculture. It makes a unity.  The Last Supper, which begins the Easter feast, was originally a Passover meal, attended by Jesus and his twelve disciples.

Timothy Verdon is an American priest in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence. He’S also a Yale-trained art historian and very knowledgeable about the art of Florence.

FATHER TIMOTHY VERDUN:   In this room,  the dining hall, the refectory of the Benedictine Nuns of Sant Apollonia, Andrea Del Castanio painted  the meal... the last meal, the last supper of Jesus Christ.

BURT WOLF:  This was actually the room in which they ate three times a day, and were confronted with that painting.

FATHER TIMOTHY VERDUN:  Exactly... and when they ate, they sat at tables arranged around the room exactly as you see the table arranged here.   So that, for example, on the inside of the table, where we're standing, in the middle of the room, no one sat.  Just as there you see almost everyone seated on the far side of the table. When Castanio put Judas, the apostle who betrayed Christ, on the wrong side of the table, it was a way of clearly identifying him and a way of suggesting that these women, like all human beings in any form of social relationship, also had to be aware of the possibility of coming over to that “wrong side of the table,” of betraying the common life symbolized in the food they took together.

BURT WOLF:  They're using real bread in the painting as opposed to unleavened bread which would have actually been at that Passover meal.

FATHER TIMOTHY VERDUN:  That's right.  The use of real bread is part of an effort to strike a balance between the evocation of a liturgy, whether Jewish or Christian, and on the other hand, the convincing presentation of something that looked like the actual meal that the Benedictine Sisters are taking in this room.

BURT WOLF:  And always reminding us,  “are we committed... do we believe?”

FATHER TIMOTHY VERDUN:  I think that is the underlying question. You know, when people enter upon a life of formal and demanding commitment it is, as it is for all men and women in whatever their commitments may be, the recurrent and even daily question: can I get through this day without betraying what I have committed myself to do?

BURT WOLF:  On every level. 

FATHER TIMOTHY VERDUN:  On every level, whether you're a  husband, a wife, a parent, a priest, a nun... can I get through today without betraying what I am committed to?

The gatherings, celebrations, and rituals that make up the Easter feast in Florence take five days.  It starts on Holy Thursday and continues through to Easter Monday. 

FATHER TIMOTHY VERDUN:  On Good Friday, the day of Christ’s death, the altars are stripped in all the churches, and fires are put out in all the churches.  The next time there will be a lighted candle will be in the dark of night between Saturday and Sunday, preceding the new light of Christ’s resurrection.  And in Florence it’s very dramatic, because we do it in the vast cathedral under the fourteenth-century vaults.  As far as one can get from the altar, a fire is lit, a kind of bonfire.  The bishop and all of the clergy come from the altar to this fire in a completely darkened church.  At the fire, the bishop blesses a monumental candle -- often it’s about six feet high -- which symbolizes Christ, which symbolizes the column of fire that led the people of Israel through the Red Sea, through the desert and to their safety.  And at that point, the bishop takes fire from the bonfire, on a wick, and illuminates the new Easter candle.

SINGER:  “Lumin Christi...”

FATHER TIMOTHY VERDUN:  “Lumin Christi.”  The light of Christ.  And the deacon then carries the column of fire, the light of Christ, the candle symbolizing the risen Christ.  At that point, other assistants -- acolytes -- using wicks, take flame from the single flame of the candle and begin to light the candles of the faithful in the church.  The faithful each have a candle in hand, and as the great candle proceeds down the nave of the church, in the hands of each believing man and woman, this light takes shape, this light comes alive.  So that by the time the deacon brings the great candle, the pascal candle to the altar, the entire church is a kind of ocean of points of light drawn from the single light, which is Christ.

On Sunday morning, a grand procession of people dressed in period costumes fills the streets of Florence. 

Pairs of white oxen drag a wagon through the streets of Florence until they reach the front of the Cathedral.  The wagon is nicknamed the “Big Old Bum” because of the way it teeters into the piazza.  The cart that is being used today was originally built in 1764.  It is a pyramid set on top of a box and covered with decorations.

At about 10 o’clock, the fire arrives at the Cathedral. The fire was struck from three flints in a nearby church.  The flints are said to have come from the Holy Sepulcher, the tomb of Christ.  They’re reputed to have been given as a reward to Pazzino de’ Pazzi for having been the first knight to scale the walls of Jerusalem during a Crusade in the Fourteenth Century.  The Pazzi were a powerful Florentine family at the time. They instituted this ceremony, which has taken place in front of the Cathedral for six hundred years.

A wire stretches along the central nave of the church starting at the top of a column that is standing in front of the Easter Candle.  A rocket in the shape of a dove is attached to the wire.

FATHER TIMOTHY VERDUN:  The explosion of the cart is fully heard inside the cathedral, where at the same time, bells, both the great bells of Giotto’s Campanile, the bell tower, and about fifty smaller bells -- cowbells, altar bells, bells of every kind are being rung, and the explosion coming in from outside, the rocket shafts of light passing in front of the door, the smoke rolling into the cathedral, and the joyous cacophony in the cathedral itself are a spectacular expression of the jubilation of the church of believers before the event of Christ’s resurrection.

There’s some very powerful symbolism here.  The dove came out of the darkness and brought light in the form of the fireworks.  The thunder of the fireworks is a symbol of Christ breaking out of His tomb.  The thunder leads to rain,  the symbol of the baptism.  Fire and water, dark into light, silence into noise, death into life.

The ritual that takes place in the Cathedral of Florence is for people who believe that Christ meant that he would continue to be present in the world, to be eaten as bread and drunk as wine in the course of a sacred meal.  This ceremony, called The Eucharist, is the most meaning-filled food ritual ever devised. It is literally sharing the life of God by eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  One of the ways to understand the message of this celebration is to take a look at the simple acts of eating and drinking.  We must eat and drink in order to stay alive.  The food exists outside us.  We must find it and bring it inside.  It’s a very simple way of learning that there are things outside ourselves that we must discover and bring inside in order to survive.  And that is one of the central messages of the Eucharist, the communion. God becomes food.  We eat the food and become one with God.  Because bread and wine are used in the communion, they are the most important foods of the meal.  But there are other foods on the Easter table that also have the sense of the holiday. 

This is the kitchen of the Villa di Capezzana, a wine and olive estate just outside of Florence.  It’s the home of Count Ugo Contini Bonacossi and his family.  Countess Lisa and her chef are preparing their traditional Easter dinner.

The Easter Lamb is a very important element in the meal. It recalls the Passover lamb, which was originally the animal sacrificed in the Temple of Jerusalem.  The lamb is also a reference to Christ, who was the “Lamb of God” and Himself became the sacrifice, in order to take away the sins of the world.  Lamb will often come to the Easter table in the form of a roast. It is the main course of the meal and can be very elaborate -- or very simple -- in its presentation.

A leg of lamb which has been cut into chunks is dredged in flour.  It goes into a roasting pan with a little oil, slices of leek and garlic, and sprigs of fresh rosemary.

A little seasoning... the lamb gets browned on all sides... a cup of white wine.  Then into a 450-degree Fahrenheit oven for an hour.  Along with the lamb comes a dish that is made by sauteing some pancetta, fresh garlic and peas.   After about five minutes of cooking, a cup of chicken broth is added.  The cover goes on for ten more minutes of cooking.  The peas are a local sign that spring has arrived.

The main course of the meal is served to Count Ugo and his family from a single dish, as opposed to having individual plates brought to each place.  It symbolizes the central unity of the family, from which each individual person -- or in this case, portion -- is derived.

The dessert at Villa di Capezzana is La Colomba, a sweet bread presented in the shape of a dove.  For tens of thousands of years the dove has been a symbol of the return of spring and for almost the last two thousand years, a sign of the Holy Spirit of Christianity.  In Italy, La Colomba has became an almost essential part of the foods of Easter.  Countess Lisa serves it with a Zabaglione sauce.

Then there is Pan de Ramerino.  It’s Italy’s Hot Cross Bun.  Originally a Florentine specialty, it was made on Holy Thursday and eaten on Good Friday. It is baked with raisins and rosemary, and has a shiny top which is sometimes marked with a cross. Rosemary is a sign of spring and sacred to the Virgin Mary.  Rosemary is also a symbol of remembrance.  The bun says, “Remember the meaning of Easter”.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Of all of the gatherings and celebrations in the Christian tradition, none is more clearly associated with wine than Easter.  At the Last Supper, which was the very beginning of the Easter tradition, Christ made the association between wine and his blood.  And in doing so, he made wine an essential element in the rituals of the Catholic church. 

The Romans had developed vineyards throughout Western Europe, so it was not difficult for the early Christians to find wine for their services.  However, with the fall of Rome the cultivation of the vineyards in many places became the responsibility of the Church.  The church kept the skills of winemaking alive through the Dark Ages.  Many monasteries acquired large properties and developed new winemaking technology.  Local royalty could donate valuable vineyards in exchange for continual remembrance in the prayers of the monks.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  During the Middle Ages the church was part of the feudal system and had extensive land holdings.  Like other feudal landlords, they collected rent  from the people who lived on their land.  Often that rent was paid in the form of wine.   They liked wine, because unlike most agricultural products, wine lasted a long time and, in some cases, even improved with aging.  The monks would teach people who lived on the land how to grow grapes and how to make wine, and take a portion of the vintage in exchange.  There were also wealthy landowners who just gave wine to the church in the hope of someday receiving “celestial privileges.”

When Spanish explorers headed for the New World, members of the clergy were part of the expedition and they established vineyards in the earliest Spanish colonies.  The original vineyards of California and South America were the work of Catholic missionaries.

All of the wines served by Count Ugo are wines that were made at his family winery, Tenuta Di Capezzana.  To call this a family winery is about as descriptive as you can get.  His son Filippo is an agricultural economist who looks after the vineyards.  His daughter, Benedetta, handles the public relations.  Her husband is a designer who designed the labels for the new wine.  Countess Lisa oversees the property and the daughter Beatrice is in charge of sales.

This is the earliest written document dealing with Capezzana.  It is a lease in which the local Church of Saint Peter rents the lands of Capezzana to a farmer named Petruccio.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In exchange for the use of the land, the church got half the wine, half the olives and half the olive oil produced on the land.  It was a good deal for both parties.  The date of the document is 16 December in the year 804.  During the Middle Ages, the wines of Capezzana were exported to England by the Di Medici family, a group that clearly knew a good thing when they saw it.  The vineyards are up in the hills, about fifteen miles west of Florence.  The area is surrounded by the Chianti region, but the wines of Capezzana are produced under a different set of regulations.

In 1716 The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de Medici III, marked off this district as special; its wines are similar to Chianti but wine authorities describe Capezzana as more refined.  Today Capezzana produces several outstanding red wines, but it is renowned for its Villa Di Capezzana Carmignano and Carmignano Riserva.   Wine authorities believe that their elegant smoothness comes from the addition of wine that is made from a grape called Cabernet Sauvignon.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  We couldn’t really talk about the foods of Easter without talking about the Easter Bunny; not actually part of the meal but essential to the celebration. Originally the Easter Bunny was the Easter hare, an animal sacred to the moon.  And for centuries people talked about “the hare in the moon,” not the “man in the moon.”  Next time you see a full moon, take a look; I think you’ll be able to spot the outlines of a hare.   A hare is a highly productive animal and associated with fertility, and for many centuries it was used to show the power of life returning from the darkness, like the moon.

During the last few hundred years the hare has turned into the Easter Bunny, usually made of chocolate and carrying an egg, which can also be made of chocolate.  As a matter of fact, the Italians have really gotten into the business of the chocolate Easter Egg.  Many people have them made to order, with a specially-chosen gift in the center.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The egg yolk is a symbol for the sun; the rabbit is a symbol for the moon.  When you see the rabbit and the egg together, you see the sun and the moon together.  It’s an example of out age-old desire for unity:  Sun and moon, day and night, life and death, the rebirth of spring and the rebirth of Christ.  In one form or another, the egg is always part of the Easter meal and it takes on its ancient symbolism as a wish for eternal life.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  That’s a brief look at the gathering and celebration, rituals and recipes that are part of Easter in Florence.  Like most holidays, it marks a series of passages -- darkness into light, winter into spring, death into life.  Because food is so essential to our life, it is a powerful symbol for any celebration that deals with rebirth or return of the growing season.  The religion may change, but the message is the same:  life, in one form or another, will always have the power to renew itself.  Thank you for joining me; I’m Burt Wolf.

ANNOUNCER:  The history, folklore, recipes and other information presented in this series is available in a companion book... with over three hundred and fifty pages, explaining the rituals that mark the passages of our lives.  It includes one hundred and fifty color photographs and one hundred recipes.  A copy of BURT WOLF’S GATHERINGS AND CELEBRATIONS may be ordered for $39.95, which includes postage and handling.  The number is 1-800-424-9090.

Gatherings & Celebrations: The Spring Fiestas of Seville - #119

Seville is the capital of the region of Andalucia in southern Spain.  It was from this province that Christopher Columbus set sail.  And it was right here to Seville that he returned with his treasures.  For decades Seville had a monopoly on the commercial action between Europe and the New World.   The city of Seville is like a magnificent layer cake.  Each slice has a base that was put down during the ancient Bronze Age.  Then there were layers set down by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Jews, Moors, and Christians, one right on top of the other.  And when you take a bite of Seville, it all blends together.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  One of the best times of the year to see these layers of culture in action is during the weeks of the Spring Fiestas.  There are actually two weeks, and they are very different.   One is the week of the Seville Fair; the other is Holy Week.  Holy Week is actually a week of symbolic conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil.  There are stories told of tremendous heroism.  There are also stories of tremendous terror. For a while things look pretty bleak -- but in the end, the forces of lightness and goodness triumph over the forces of evil and darkness.

During the 1300’s the people of Seville began to group themselves into brotherhoods.  Each brotherhood agreed to produce an image from the Passion of Christ or a sorrowing Virgin and to venerate that image throughout the year.  Today a brotherhood might have up to three thousand members, and include both men and women.  The most important acts of veneration each year are the fifty-five processions, one for each brotherhood. They take place during Holy Week.  Each brotherhood owns from one to three floats with scenes showing Christ’s Passion or the weeping Virgin.  All the statues are very realistic and must be approved by the general public.  If the people don’t like the new image, it’s removed, no matter how expensive it was to build.

Each float weighs between two and three tons and is carried through the streets of Seville by groups of young men.  For years the floats were carried by professional stevedores.  Eventually, however, their fees became too expensive for the brotherhoods.  People thought that carrying the floats through Seville would come to an end.  But the young men of each brotherhood came together to do the job and the general opinion is that the young men do an even better job than the stevedores did.  And there’s an art to carrying the floats.  The trick is to make them swing and sway so the figures seem alive and moving.

.”  It’s an ancient technique for a festival:  the town where the festival is going on is turned into the town where the original events took place.

The members who actually walk in the procession wear long robes in the colors of the brotherhood.  The pointed headgear, which looks rather terrifying, was originally designed to hide the identity of the person inside.  That gave them a chance to withdraw into themselves.  There’s a theory that being disguised in this costume gave men the opportunity to act in a very religious way, which was not an easy thing to do.  This is a culture that has often seen religious behavior in public as not-macho.  Under the hood, their emotions remain private.

There are people who are wearing the robes of the society but have taken the cones out of their hood.  They want the hood to hang down so they look more humble. These are people doing penance.  The visual symbol is like that of the cock that has become crest-fallen and is therefore no longer “cocky.”

The floats that pass through the streets of Seville express suffering and pain in two different forms.  There are the images of Christ -- images of pain in action --    and there are the images of the weeping Madonnas, images of the pain of looking on, knowing that you are helpless to prevent the suffering of someone that you love. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  This can be a very emotional experience for the crowd.  There are moments of sympathy, sorrow, and gratitude, and at the most intense points, a sense of almost direct contact with the love of Christ.  There is also a great appreciation for  the floats, the decorations, and the music.

It’s called a saeta, which is the Spanish word for “arrow.”  In this case it is an arrow of emotion, of passion, of sentiment.  And it passes between one of the statues being carried through the streets and one of the people watching the procession.  The viewer has been overwhelmed with feeling, and she expresses herself by singing the story of her love and her sadness.  Writing and singing saetas is an art form.  They’re one of the truly climactic moments in the whole celebration, but they are also very personal moments, and usually it is only the singer who knows when and where a saeta will take place.  And sometimes the singer only finds out because he or she is suddenly singing!

The processions go on all day and all night for seven days.  Each one takes from eight to twelve hours to complete.  Each float must pass through a pattern of specific streets and every float must stop at the Cathedral. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  It reminds everyone that there are journeys in life that we must make if we are going to learn to find our way in the outside world and other places that we must visit if we are going to learn to find our way into our inner heart.  Holy Week concludes with a final procession that ends up at midnight.  The Cathedral bells start to ring; Easter has begun.  Light and life have triumphed over death and darkness.

Shortly after Holy Week ends, Seville turns to Fair Week.  This is a celebration of life, of the sensuous aspects of existence.  It started hundreds of years ago as a cattle market and some of its rituals are designed to show the superiority of humans over animals.  There’s a celebration of the way horses increase human power by raising us up, and lending us their strength.  Bullfights take place to illustrate a man’s skill and daring in the face of extraordinary animals.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The Fair has always been involved with sort of a balancing act with Holy Week.  Holy Week is religious; the Fair is secular.  Holy Week takes over the streets of the city for its festival; the Fair moves outside of the city and sets up a “pretend Seville.” 

Each year an enormous, newly-designed entrance gate is made for the Fair.  The actual design of the doorway is of considerable interest to the people of Seville, and its presentation and opening a major public event.  One of the strategies of a festival is to produce elaborate architecture and then tear it down as soon as the event is over. 

Taking away the physical elements that contained the celebration is a way of keeping each occasion unique and memorable.  The setting disappears with the end of the festival.  You are bound to the event by memory and that makes it even more special.  It’s also in the tradition of sheer extravagant waste that is often a “must” for a good festival.

On each of the six days of the Fair there is a parade along the main street.  Men in leather pants, boots and stiff-brimmed hats ride along on horses.  It is considered extremely chic to have a woman sitting side-saddle behind the man.  No unisex imagery here.  This is a clear gender-differentiating picture.  It is meant to be sexy.

One can also ride a horse-and-buggy in the parade.  These are driven by men in somber, dark clothing and black hats, with women in bright-colored dresses in the chariot proper. 

The basic structure inside the Fair is a little canvas house called a casita.  Casita actually means “little house.”  Inside, the casitas are furnished with all the elements that you would expect to find in one of Seville’s homes.  Curtains, carpets, mirrors, tables, chairs, pictures, and places to cook.  The furnishings, however, are only emblematic of a “typical” Seville house.  It’s just a summary, a work of art, not the real thing.  The family or business that has set up the house invites people to stop in and have something to eat and drink.  The people of Seville see themselves as great presenters of dramatic displays.  They need an audience nearby to share the experience, and so in many ways they are very open and hospitable.  But Seville has had a long history of invasion by foreign powers, and so the individual family of Seville has become somewhat closed, except for the immediate membership.  Everyone is ready to go out eating and drinking and dancing.  But the operative words here are go out, rather than go home.   It’s a special occasion when an old and prominent Seville family entertains at home.  The “pretend houses” at the Fair give everyone a week to make believe that they are going to each others’ homes.

There’s music and dancing until just before dawn.   Then everyone finds a soft spot and sleeps for three hours, at which time the Fair begins again.  This goes on for six days and six nights.

Just south of Seville is the town of Jerez, and just outside of Jerez, the restaurant El Faro.  It’s one of the most picturesque restaurants in Spain.  The art on the walls of the front room will give you a quick idea of the restaurant’s specialty.  But the walls in the back room are just as important.  El Faro has an extensive collection of the wines, sherries and brandies of Spain.  Fernando Cordoba is the owner and the chef, and he comes from a family of restaurateurs.  He likes to take the classic home recipes of his native region and adapt them to our more modern tastes.  More of the natural flavors of the foods are allowed to come through.  I asked him to prepare some of the dishes that are typically served during the weeks of the Fiestas.

The first week of the Fiestas, Holy Week, is also the last week of Lent.  Recipes that contain meat or animal products are usually not on the home menu during Lent, but in their place are some outstanding vegetable dishes.  This one is a spring vegetable stew.  Three quarts of water go into a large stockpot, along with two cups of coarsely chopped onions... two cups of peas... and two garlic cloves that have been cut into slices.  Fernando continues to add the ingredients, which consist of a quarter of a cup of olive oil, one whole dried pepper, and three bay leaves.  Next in -- two cups of hearts of artichokes.  Fernando uses fresh baby artichokes, which are wonderful if it’s spring and the artichokes are available.  Otherwise, your best bet are frozen artichoke hearts.  Those are followed by four cups of broad beans, the younger the better.  Then four whole cloves of garlic and five slices of bread.  The heat comes up and the water is brought to a simmer.  Everything cooks along, uncovered, for an hour.  At which point the stew has thickened and it’s ready to serve.  A quick tasting for salt and it’s into a serving bowl... where neatness counts.

Fernando’s second dish is a whole fish baked in coarse sea salt.  It looks a little strange, but it tastes great.  A half-inch layer of sea salt goes down on a heat-proof dish that can hold the fish in a single layer.  Then the whole fish goes on.  It’s been gutted and cleaned inside, but the scales have been left on the outside.  The scales help prevent the fish from absorbing the flavor of the salt.  The primary role of the salt in this recipe is to conduct the heat to the fish in a way that is controlled and even.  Additional coarse salt is placed on top, until the fish has a generally even coating of salt, about an inch thick.  Then it goes into a 425 degree Fahrenheit oven for about twenty-five minutes.  When the fish comes out of the oven, the salt has formed a hard crust.  Fernando cracks through the outer surface and removes the salt.  Then he peels back the fish skin and serves the top filet.  The bones are gently removed, the head and tail taken off, and the other filet is placed onto the serving dish.  It’s served with a light sprinkling of olive oil and some lemon juice.  It’s quite amazing -- there’s virtually no taste of salt in the fish.  The salt acts like a pot, and that’s it.

For dessert Fernando is preparing a recipe that is somewhere between a flan and a cheesecake, taking the best parts of each.  Five eggs are broken and set into a mixing bowl.  Four cups of cottage cheese are added.  The cheese has been drained of moisture by letting it sit in a sieve, over a bowl, in the refrigerator overnight.  Then one cup of heavy cream and one and a quarter cups of sugar go in.  Fernando uses his industrial mixer to blend everything together.  The mixture is then poured into a glass loaf pan that has been set into a second pan with enough water in it to go halfway up the outside of the glass pan.  All that goes into a 325 degree oven for twenty minutes.

While the cheese mixture is baking in the water bath, Fernando makes a sauce.  A half cup of honey and two cups of orange juice are heated together in a saute pan until the mixture comes to a boil.  Then it’s allowed to boil until it thickens into a sauce.  That takes about ten minutes.  When the cake is ready, it’s turned out onto a plate.  Two slices are cut and set onto a serving dish.  A few tablespoons of the sauce are drizzled on top.  A little fresh mint and it’s ready to go.  The sweet return of dairy products after Lent.

 

Many of the most unusual pastries in Seville are made in the convents of closed religious orders.  The recipes are transmitted by word of mouth.  They’re closely guarded secrets.  Perhaps the most famous place to buy this type of pastry is the convent of San Leandro in Seville.  There’s a list of what’s available on the wall and a revolving door.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Mediokilo, por favor.  Si.   (It’s kind of like the world’s oldest vending machine.)  Gracias.  (It’s one of the few places in the world where you don’t have to count your change.)

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  For well over a hundred years,  the sherry  companies used real egg whites to clarify their wine.  That left them with a lot of egg yolks, which they donated to the local convents.  The convents would use the egg yolks to make candy like this.  Then in the 1980s, a new technology arrived.  They no longer used egg whites, they no longer donated egg yolks.  But the convents kept making the candy -- though, uh, slightly more expensive.

Over two thousand years ago the Greeks were shipping wine out of southern Spain and the region is still a wine-producing area.  But the most unique drink to come out of this part of the world is not just wine -- it’s wine that has been fortified to become sherry.  The world’s largest producer of sherry is a company called Gonzalez Byass.  They are the producers of Tio Pepe, the world’s most popular sherry.  Tio means “uncle”, and it’s made in the town of Jerez de la Frontera, just down the road from Seville.  The soil is filled with the fossilized shells of the marine life that lived in the sea that once covered these hills.  The shells keep the soil rich in limestone, which is good for the winemaker because it helps hold moisture in this hot, sunny climate.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  On a day of the winemakers’ choosing, the grapes are picked and crushed.  As soon as the grapes are crushed, the process called fermentation begins.  It’s actually kind of easy to understand.  On the outside of the grape, there is a natural yeast.  When the grape is crushed, the yeast comes in contact with the grape juice.  The juice contains sugar, which is the favorite food of the yeast.  It turns the sugar into carbon dioxide gas, which just floats off in the air, and alcohol.  What you have left is alcohol and grape juice, which, in its most basic form, is wine. 

The cellarmaster selects the best of the winemakers’ work and determines which sherry shall be made from which wine.  Sherries are usually not wines made from the harvest of a single year.  They are a blending together of sherries from different years.

During the fermentation of a wine that is destined to become a fino or an amontillado, a flower-like yeast forms spontaneously on the top surface of the wine. It’s called the flor and has a yeasty bread-like aroma that it gives to the wine. And as far as we know, this flor forms only in the area around Jerez.

The aging of the wine takes place with a method that is used only in the making of sherry.  It’s called the Solera System.  The wine barrels are held in rows, one on top of the other.  The newest wine, from this year’s vintage, goes into the cask on the top.  When the producer is ready to bottle the sherry, a portion is drawn off from the bottom.  The portion that was drawn off is then replaced with wine from the barrel just above.  And that’s repeated until all the barrels have been refilled from the row above except for the row on top.  That’s refilled with new wine.  At this point, the wine is fortified with distilled grape alcohol made from the same type of grape that made the wine.  The addition of the alcohol to the wine is one of the essential elements in the production of sherry.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Which returns us to the story of Tio Pepe.  Tio’s nephew, who was the founder of the firm, was making a fine sherry, but it wasn’t exactly what Tio had in mind.  Tio remembered the flavor of his youth, and that was the taste that he wanted.  So his nephew made a couple of casks for him.  Tio kept those casks in the back of the winery and put his name on them so nobody would get into his stash.  He’d come around with a few of his friends and have a drink.  Everybody who tasted Tio’s sherry loved it.  It became quite popular.  As a matter of fact, today Tio Pepe is the most popular sherry in the world.  Don Mauricio Gonzalez-Gordon is a member of the present generation of the family, and in charge of the business.

DON MAURICIO:  This was my great-grandfather’s sample room.  He was the man who started this company.  And when he died, over a hundred years ago, in 1887, his son, my grandfather, decided that everything should be left as he left it; that is, not even dusted.  So these bottles have never been dusted since more than a hundred years ago.

BURT WOLF:   Wow. 

These days there are four basic sherries made in Spain.  There’s the fino, which is light and dry and delicate, and has the flavor of almond.  And it’s what most people think about when they talk about sherry.  Next is the amontillado, which has a hint of hazelnut, and then the oloroso, which tastes of walnut.  Finally there is the noe..

DON MAURICIO:   -- the man in the ark, who we used to always say was our first customer.  But that is a very, very sweet wine, made from a different grape.  It’s a beautiful dessert wine, something I many times will substitute for the dessert!  I just have my glass of noe.

People who like to keep track of things like this tell me that during the week of the Festival of Seville, more sherry is poured in this town than in North America during an entire year.  The only thing I can say to that is... cheers!

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  That’s a look at the two celebrations that make up the Spring Festivals of Seville.  Together they compliment and balance each other.  But they also mark a great passage -- from winter into spring, from darkness and sadness into light and joy.  And the foods that are served at the festivals help mark that change.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking at the gatherings and celebrations, rituals and recipes that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: The Moon Festivals of China - #118

The Chinese moon calendar was developed thousands of years ago and based on careful observations of the sky.  The calendar controlled agriculture, and agriculture controlled almost everything else.  Plant and harvest at the right time and everyone has a chance to eat.  Plant and harvest at the wrong time and everyone starves.  There’s an ancient Chinese saying that makes the point: “We must look to heaven for our food.”  The regular arrival of the new moons signaled the busy times and the slow times for farmers.

Eventually the slow periods were marked with gatherings and celebrations.  And we’ve come to the Republic of China to take a look at them -- gatherings and celebrations that are based on the movements of the moon. New Year’s and the Lantern Festival come along when the winter weather made field work difficult. The Dragon Boat Festival comes after the first harvest, and the Mid-Autumn ceremony follows the last harvest.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The moon calendar tells the people of China when to have their celebrations.  But what actually happens at those events is mucb more the result of the traditions of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.  In the west we tend to think of those as organized religions, but in reality they are much more like a general set of instructions to help guide you to a happier life.

Buddhism is based on the life and teachings of Siddhartha Gautama.  Siddhartha is thought to have been born about 550 B.C. in a small town in Nepal.  He was a local prince and lived in great luxury.  But in his twenties he left his family and their palace in search of spiritual enlightenment.  For years he wandered the countryside, avoiding all material comforts.  At one point he began a long meditation under a tree... and eventually found the enlightenment that he’d been searching for.  From then on he was known as the Buddha... the Enlightened One.  And he traveled about teaching his philosophy. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   His teachings revolved around what are called the Four Basic Truths.  First, all life contains suffering.  Second, desire is the cause of the suffering.  Third, if you can get rid of desire you get rid of suffering, and you end up enlightened.  And fourth, enlightenment is available to everybody.  He did not agree with the difficult life of the ascetic, but he also disliked the idea of the pursuit of pleasure just for the sake of pleasure.  What is recommended is what is called the Middle Way.

Taoism had its beginnings in the ancient Chinese culture that goes back in history for well over 4000 years.  But its formation into a philosophy appears to have taken place during the 6th century B.C., and it’s attributed to a man called Lao Tzu, which literally translates as “the old master.”  He was the keeper of the royal archives in the court of the Chou Dynasty.  Eventually, however, he got fed up with the Government and decided to leave the country.  When he came to the Western border, the guards recognized him as one of the wise men of the court and would not let him pass until he wrote down the sum of his wisdom.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   So the old man sat down, penned a five thousand word manuscript, handed it to the border patrol,  headed off, and was never heard of again.  It’s not a religious text the way we use that phrase in the west; it’s really a short poem about moral philosophy.  It talks about the force which is in each of us, and yet greater than all things put together.

Of all the philosophies that have been developed in China, none has been more powerful than the work of Confucius.  He was born in 551 B.C. during a period of political and moral chaos.  The ruling dynasty was crumbling, and petty factions were at war throughout the country.  Confucius wanted to reestablish the ethical principles that had guided much of China during an earlier time.  And he spent his life trying to teach people that true happiness could only be found in acts of generosity and the promotion of peace and friendship. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   By the time he died at the age of seventy-two, over three thousand students had studied with him.  He also wrote a number of books that told you what the proper behavior was for just about any situation that you would encounter during your lifetime.  He told his students to be tough with themselves but easy-going and benevolent with other people. 

He believed that government was designed for the benefit of the people... not the benefit of other government officials.  From the second century B.C. until 1905, the teachings of Confucius were literally the official body of moral and intellectual information for China.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Gods, ghosts and ancestors play major roles in the festivals of China, and in the most positive ways.  When you pay your respects to an ancestor, you thank them for the life they have given you, but you also help them with the life that they are having in the other world.  It connects you to the past.  And because the same rituals are taught to the children in your family, it connects you to the future.  And it is this sense of connection with the past and the future that is so valuable to the people who take part in these festivals.

Here in the Republic of China, as in Chinese communities around the world, one of the major occasions in the year is the Tomb-Sweeping Festival, which takes place on the 5th of April.  It’s a day when all the members of a family, both young and old, pay their respects to their ancestors.  This is a private Buddhist cemetery just outside of Taipei.  It’s called the North Sea Paradise Treasure Tower.

This is the time of the year when the Chinese visit their family tombs and make ritual offerings.  Most often they burn incense and sacrificial paper money. This is not the real stuff, but a special printed form that is believed to turn into real money as the smoke from it passes up into the heavens.  It’s the ultimate technique for the transfer of funds.  The family cleans up the graveside.  The area is swept and manicured, fresh flowers are set in place, and sometimes a new bush is planted.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Very often an entire meal is placed on a tray and offered to the ancestors.  The specific dishes on the tray are usually chosen because they were great favorites of the dearly departed. One of the nice things about gods and spirit ancestors is they don’t actually eat the food.  They inhale the aroma.  And they expect you to take the leftovers home and make them part of your meal.  They feel that your eating of the remaining foods is actually an additional tribute to their memory.  Works out nicely for everybody.

The ceremonies are usually performed before dawn or during the early morning hours. The spirits of the departed are thought to sleep during the night and therefore “be at home.” And you want to catch them with your offering before they set out for the day.

It’s a time to remember those who have passed on and yet be able to take pleasure in the continuance of the relationships.  To stop and think about the essential aspects of life and death, and at the same time enjoy the simple elements of a family outing. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   There’s nothing morbid about these events.  They’re actually designed to connect the present generation with their past in a warm and tender way.  Everybody gets involved in a series of tasks, and by caring for their ancestors in the other world, they also express their hope that their spirit ancestors will care for them while they are in this world.

I asked Chef Ip at the Grand Formosa Regent to put together an example of a typical family meal... the kind of meal that would be enjoyed by all the members of the family, and yet also be a mark of respect to their ancestors.

The first dish is minced seafood on leaves of lettuce.  The recipe starts with one cup of oil going into a heated wok.  As soon as the oil is hot, in goes a cup each of minced shrimp and minced scallops.  There’s a minute of cooking, after which the seafood is drained away from the oil and held aside.  The wok is cleaned and reheated.  Then in goes a half cup each of minced mushrooms, celery, and water chestnuts, plus a half cup of pre-cooked sausage meat.  A minute of stir-frying and the seafood is returned to the wok.  A cup of minced bamboo shoots go in.  Another minute of stir-frying.  A half teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of cornstarch are added.  Then two tablespoons of soy sauce and two tablespoons of oyster sauce.  As you can see, the chef measures with the tip of his spatula so all the amounts that I’m giving you are really just my best guesses.  A minute more of stirring, at which point the mixture is divided onto six iceberg lettuce leaves that have been trimmed into neat circles.  A garnish of chopped macadamia nuts and they are ready to be eaten out of hand. 

The remaining lettuce is used to prepare stir-fried lettuce, which will be served at the meal as a side dish.  A wok is heated.  A half cup of chicken stock goes in.  Then two tablespoons of oil, and a head of lettuce that has been cut into two-inch pieces.  A half teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of cornstarch are added.  Everything is stir-fried for a minute, or until the lettuce is cooked through but still firm to the bite.  Then the lettuce is drained from the cooking liquid, placed on a plate and flavored with a little soy sauce.

Chicken fried rice is one of those traditional Chinese dishes that makes a little meat go a long way.  The chef starts by heating his wok and pouring in a cup of oil.  As soon as the oil is hot, which means a temperature of about 360 degrees Fahrenheit, in goes a cup of chicken cut into pieces that are about a half-inch by a half-inch.  They’re stir-fried for thirty seconds and then drained away from the oil.  The wok is cleaned out and three eggs are scrambled on the hot surface.  Three cups of pre-cooked white rice go in. The rice for this recipe is usually cooked a day or so earlier and kept in the refrigerator.  It’s actually still cool when it goes into the wok.  The rice is stirred up and heated.  Then the chicken goes back on.  A half cup of cooked peas.  A half teaspoon of cornstarch and a half teaspoon of salt are added.  A teaspoon of soy sauce in mixed in.  And finally a cup of thinly sliced lettuce.  A little more stirring... and as soon as everything is warm, it’s onto the plate.

And this is a very interesting dish of beef with ginger and bell peppers.  The cooking starts with a half cup of chicken stock being heated in a wok.  Then in go red, yellow and green bell peppers, each of which has been seeded and sliced into one-inch cubes.  Then ten pieces of marinated ginger. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The ginger that he’s using is the standard fresh ginger, which has been soaking in a mixture of five parts white vinegar to one part sugar.  Has a great sweet taste.

All that stir-fries for two minutes.  Then everything is drained from the cooking liquid and placed into a dry wok, where it is stir-fried for a minute.  Then the ingredients are taken out of the wok and a half cup of oil goes in.  As soon as the oil is hot, two cups of beef are added.  They’ve been marinating for a half hour in a mixture of two eggs, a quarter of a tablespoon of cornstarch, and a half cup of oil.  The beef is cooked for two minutes and then removed from the wok and drained away from the cooking oil.  The beef is then returned to the empty wok.  A quarter of a cup of Chinese vinegar is added.  Then a quarter of a teaspoon of cornstarch that has been dissolved in a quarter of a cup of water.  A half cup of chicken stock is added.  A moment of cooking.  Then the beef goes onto a serving plate, followed by the peppers and the ginger.

All of this cooking took place in the Grand Formosa Regent, which is one of the outstanding hotels in Asia.  It’s smack in the middle of Taipei, which makes it very convenient for its guests. The central core of the building is an atrium lounge.  The hotel is particularly famous for its restaurants, which have become popular with the residents of Taiwan.  It’s usually not easy for a hotel to get the locals as regular customers, but the chefs at the Regent are some of the most talented cooks in the city.  It’s a perfect home base if you’re visiting Taiwan for the Moon Festivals.

The fifth day of the fifth lunar month -- usually June or July -- is the date for the Dragon Boat Festival, which is one of the most colorful celebrations in the Chinese year.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   And it comes with a great story.  During the Warring States Period, which was around 300 B.C., there was a great poet who was much beloved by the people.  He was also an adviser to the Emperor by whom he was not so much beloved.  At one point he became so depressed over the state of his country that he clasped a giant rock to his chest and threw himself in the river.  The local people jumped into their boats and rushed out to save him, or at the very least to find his body and give him a proper burial.  When they couldn’t find him, they began throwing rice into the river, in the hope that the sea creatures would eat the rice and not their beloved poet.

The custom of eating filled dumplings made with glutinous rice and wrapped in bamboo leaves is a reminder of the rice that was thrown into the river. Originally, only rice was cast into the water, but about two hundred years later a ghost arrived and identified himself as the great poet. The ghost expressed his appreciation for the annual offering of the rice, but pointed out that very often the rice was stolen by the monster who caused floods.  The ghost asked that the rice be wrapped in leaves and tied with five-colored string, both of which were not on the monster’s diet. 

The dragon boat races that take place on this day commemorate the search to save the great poet. They also demonstrate the Chinese devotion to cooperation and teamwork. Each boat has a helmsman, a drummer, twenty-two oarsmen and a flag catcher.  Two boats compete in each race. A process of elimination eventually produces a winner.  And teams comes from all over the world to take part in the races.

The dragon is the most important creature in Chinese mythology. It controls the fall of rain and all the waters on Earth which are essential to the survival of life.  The dragon heads and tails only go on the boats for the races. Once they are set in place, a Taoist priest brings them to life by burning incense, setting off firecrackers, dotting the eyes of the dragons with paint, and burning sacrificial paper money.  Some folks also believe that all the noise and the confusion caused by the boat races scare off any evil spirits in the river.

Like many important festivals throughout the world, the particular date for the events on Earth coincide with things that are happening in the heavens.  The story of the great poet’s death takes place at the same time as the summer solstice, the day of the year with the most amount of sunlight... which gives everyone a chance to add in some additional ritual.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The summer solstice is the hottest time of the year in China; it’s considered to be a period when life is out of balance and therefore dangerous.  As a result, over the centuries an assortment of protective customs have been developed.

At night, paper lanterns float down the rivers, symbolically releasing wandering spirits from Buddhist purgatory. The Dragon Festival is only a single celebration, but it kills off many evil spirits. The Chinese have always made a little go a long way.

The summer departs and autumn arrives... autumn which brings with it one of the biggest full moons of the year.

The ancient Greeks thought that marriages that took place at the time of the full moon would last and be prosperous.  For centuries, the English believed that insanity was a permanent condition, but lunacy only occurred during a full moon.  Almost every early culture has a collection of mythic stories that center on the spirits of the moon.  Most of our oldest calendars are based on the movements of the moon.  And the Chinese lunar calendar is still at the heart of their most important gatherings and celebrations.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Ancient Chinese legends tell us that the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the birthday of the Earth God.  The growing season has come to an end and the harvest is about to begin.  People take this time to thank the God Of The Moon and the God Of The Earth for the good things that have happened to them during the past twelve months. Of all of the festivals in China, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the most nostalgic and the most poetic.  And many of the stories that surround it deal with the rabbit in the moon. The Chinese, like the early Europeans, saw a rabbit in the moon, not a man.

The most important Chinese folk story about the moon is said to have taken place about 4,000 years ago. Hou Yih was a skilled archer and a master architect. One day, ten suns appeared in the sky. The emperor called on Hou Yih to shoot down the nine additional suns, which he promptly did. As a result, his fame came to the attention of the Goddess of the Western Heaven,  who commissioned him to build a jade palace for her. He did such a magnificent job that the goddess rewarded him with a pill that would give him everlasting life.  But she warned him not to take the pill until he had completed a year of prayer and fasting. Hou Yih returned home, hid the pill and began his prayers.  Hou was married to a woman whose incredible beauty was matched only by her awesome curiosity. When she discovered the pill, she swallowed it -- and was immediately drawn up to the moon. The legend states that her beauty is greatest on the night of the Moon Festival. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   If you feel that the story is a little bit too much like Eve in the Garden of Eden, and you’d like to have something where the woman was not the cause of the problem, there’s a second version.  In that one, Hou is an evil and demonic ruler who gets his hands on a bunch of pills that will give him eternal life. The queen saves the kingdom by taking all of the pills, but that sends her to the moon.  She was a devoted and sacrificial person.  At any rate, you do get the Moon God as the patron god of family happiness and good will, and autumn is always marked by families looking at the moon.

It’s also a time for lovers to be together and to pray for continued togetherness.  The moon becomes a symbol of their desire for unity.   The food associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival is the moon cake.  A round pastry stuffed with a sweet filling, they are a symbol for the togetherness of the family.  It is a common practice to give moon cakes to friends and relatives.  In ancient China, this custom was once utilized to start a revolution. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   During the 1200’s the Mongols were able to take control of most of China.  A Chinese warrior, however, by the name of Chu Yuan-chang decided to start a revolt against them.  He sent the secret message as to when the revolt was to begin by hiding it inside moon cakes.  And it worked.  The Mongol invaders were overthrown and the moon cakes became more popular than ever.

It is also the day for eating pomelo or grapefruit.  The Chinese word for grapefruit is yu, which sounds like the Chinese word that means protection.  The hope is that the Moon God will protect the family. 

Food is always an important part of a festival. In the Republic of China it’s so important that it has been given its own celebration: The Taipei Chinese Food Festival, an annual event that brings together the stars of Chinese gastronomy. The idea of a food festival goes back for thousands of years.  They began as annual street fairs where farmers, merchants, producers and traders displayed their products in the hope of getting new customers. These days it’s a major social event where the skills of master chefs are put on display.

Chang Hung Yu is one of Taipei’s leading chefs, and he’s demonstrating the Chinese technique for making noodles by hand. He holds the world’s record in this event, having made eight thousand one hundred and ninety-two strands of noodles in four minutes.  His noodles are so thin that he is actually able to thread one through the eye of a needle.

The Taipei Food Festival always includes a series of competitive events designed to test the talents of the young chefs.  The contest that draws the biggest audience is the hour-long ice-carving classic.  Each team gets a uniform block of ice and sixty minutes to do their thing.  Electric chain saws are used to cut the block into the general shape of the sculpture.  Once a basic outline has been formed, the artist gets into the detail using the traditional tools of a woodcarver.  They prepare for the event by designing the work and cutting a prototype.  Once they have the major pattern, they practice the sculpture over and over again, so they can reproduce it within the time limit. They constantly readjust the form to get the best results for the time allowed.  It’s a chilling challenge, with the prospect of success often melting away right before your eyes.

The Festival also conducts a competition in napkin folding.  The fashion for napkins in fancy shapes started in the 1500’s.  It was considered an art form, and the people who did it were paid big bucks.  The more elaborate the folding, the more impressive the table.  Napkins are folded into birds and flowers and boats.

Of all the cultures on our planet, the Chinese are probably the most preoccupied with eating and drinking. The great Chinese scholar Lin Yutang once wrote that “in China no food is really enjoyed unless it is keenly anticipated, discussed, eaten, and then commented upon.  Long before we have any special food, we think about it, rotate it in our minds, and anticipate it as a special pleasure to be shared with some of our closest friends.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  And I thank you for sharing your time with me as we took a look at some of the great festivals in Chinese culture.  And I hope you will join us next time as we travel around the world looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: New Years Eve in Versailles and New York - #117

This is the Palace of Versailles.  It stands about fourteen miles west of Paris and it was built in the 1600s by order of Louis XIV, King of France.  Louis XIV was the most elegant and luxury-loving of all the kings of France.  And when it came to throwing a party Louis was, to say the least, opulent.  He left no peasant unturned in the pursuit of pleasure.  He was the party animal of his century.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Louis hated Paris.  It was a difficult town for him to control the other nobles, and it made him feel insecure.  As a matter of fact, on a number of occasions they had tried to kill him.  So he decided to get out of town and build himself a place in the country.  And while he was at it, he thought he would build a place that was so big, so luxurious, so magnificent that its sheer size would overpower the minds of the people who came here and make them feel small. And you know what?  It worked.

Versailles was a little country village when Louis started drawing up his plans.  When he finished, Versailles was one of the architectural wonders of the world.  There are eleven square miles of gardens to be weeded.  44,000 windows to be washed.  6,000 mirrors to be polished.  And it takes a team of four people over thirty days just to do the dusting.  On the other hand, it was a great place to visit.  Especially if you had been invited to one of the great parties.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Nice place.  Maybe a little too big for me now that all the kids have left home.  But it was great for Louis, especially when he would have one of his little dinner parties for five or six thousand of his closest friends.  And it was ideal for a New Year’s Eve celebration... which is what this program is all about.

FILM CLIP:  Ann Miller singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

Some historians believe that our very first ritual was the one we designed to celebrate the start of a new year.  It usually makes sense to start at the beginning.  But how do you decide when the beginning begins?  Interesting problem... and societies have answered the question differently from century to century and from place to place.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Very often a society will choose the date for its New Year’s based on something that’s happening in nature.  A change in the weather.  The beginning or the end of a growing season.  The return of a favorite food source, either animal or vegetable, to the neighborhood.  For hundreds of years, the people in Europe liked March as the beginning of the year; it was the end of the winter, the beginning of spring, the earth was coming alive again -- clearly, this could be the start of something grand.

But there were some cultures that liked fall for the start of a New Year, and we still feel that influence. The school year starts in the fall.  Many corporations begin their fiscal year in the fall.  And the new TV season begins in the fall.  Originally the French went for New Year’s on Easter Sunday.  Nice time for the celebration of rebirth.  And it was also a good season for eating.  The food was younger, the wine was older.  The French have always understood the importance of coordinating their gatherings and celebrations with what’s good to eat.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The idea of celebrating New Year’s on a day where nothing much was happening in Nature comes from the ancient Romans.  They were using a calendar with ten months.  Tight budget, I guess.  Their first month was March and their last month was December. At the end of December, everybody just stopped counting until the March came back.  At one point, someone, we think they were  probably in Egypt, decided to fill in those sixty days with two new months. The Roman Senate loved it, called them January and February, and made January 1 the official opening day of the new year. Now, this was quite a change, because suddenly we had the totally arbitrary ideas of Man taking the place of Nature. Eventually, just about everybody in Europe accepted January 1 as the opening day of the new year, just to go along with the Romans, and that’s where it still is.

There’s an old belief that the food and drink of New Year’s Eve will influence your life during the coming year.  The Romans would cover their tables with all the foods they loved.  They thought that the table held the Luck of the Coming Year.  So you wanted to cover the table with a sample or symbol of everything you wanted for the future.  If you left something out, you ran the risk of not having it during the coming year. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The foods that traditionally show up at New Year’s are designed to show two sides of our personalities.  The first set of foods are always simple, inexpensive, easy to make.  They want to show that we are not wasteful, and are therefore deserving of good things in the new year.  The second set of foods are very expensive and extravagant.  Basically they want to send a signal to the Great Spirit that says, “Excuse me!  Could I have more of this good stuff in the new year?”

The shape of the foods that are eaten on New Year’s is also important.  Breads should be well-rounded... the way you would like your year to be.  No long-shaped loaves with an open end where good luck might escape.  Same for pasta.  Pasta served at New Year’s will usually be round rather than straight.  It’s also time to eat something unusual in the hope that something or someone new will come into your life.  In some cultures New Year’s is a time for gift-giving. The ancient Romans often gave gifts of food.  Most typical were nuts and dates, dried figs, honey and sweet cakes.  Nuts were often used as a food to mark the start of something new.  You can still see that idea in action.   On New Year’s the French give jars of Marrons glaces...cooked chestnuts in sweet syrup.  Nice with ice cream. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Chocolate is a common gift at New Year’s.  You can give somebody a box of rich sweet chocolate as an expression of your hope that they will have a rich and sweet year.  And I guess if you feel differently about somebody else, you can send them a bar of “unsweetened bitter.”

Across the road from the palace of Versailles is The Trianon Palace Hotel.  It was built in 1910, and quickly became a favored location for the gatherings and celebrations of the French upper-crust... and it still is.  The hotel’s property is set out on seven acres of parkland at the edge of the King’s former estate.  You can sit at the tables of the restaurant and look out at sheep grazing on the same fields as the sheep of Queen Marie Antoinette.  Her little make-believe farm was just down the road.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Now, they tell me that those sheep are actually the direct descendants of the sheep owned by Marie Antoinette.   Can’t confirm that, though, until I get back the DNA report.  I can, however, confirm that the hotel is quite magnificent.

When you arrive at the front of the building, a young man at the door has a list with the names of all the guests that are expected to arrive that day.  He has your assigned room numbers and from the very first moment you come in contact with the hotel you are made to feel at home.  Small touch, but very nice.   Splendid entrance area... elegant public rooms... spa facilities and swimming pool... a Michelin Two-Star restaurant just so you don’t lose too much weight in the spa... and a chef who’s going to prepare a few of the dishes he likes to serve on New Year’s Eve.

Vincent Thiesse is his name, and his first recipe is for Chicken Provençal.  It’s easy to do, which is good for the home cook.  It does not contain any expensive ingredients, which sends a message that you are not extravagant and therefore deserving of good things in the New Year.  And it tastes great. 

Vincent starts by cutting a chicken into eight parts, which you can do yourself, or you can have it done at the market. I belong to Let Your Butcher Do It school.  I should also mention that when I made this recipe at home I used four whole chicken breasts, skin off, bone in.  It gave me four equal portions and made life easier and healthier.  A little salt goes on.  Some oil is heated in a deep pan.  The chicken goes in... in one layer... and gets cooked for three minutes on each side or until the surface is brown.

While the chicken is cooking, the vegetables are prepared.  Two onions are peeled, cut into small pieces and added to the pot.  The ends of the onion are not used because they’re too hard and often bitter.  Then a red bell pepper is seeded, cut into small cubes and added.  The red bell pepper is followed by a green bell pepper... also seeded and chopped into small pieces.  The final bell pepper is yellow... seeded and chopped.  Everything gets shook up.  An eggplant with the skin left on is cut into cubes and added to the pot.  A zucchini is trimmed of its ends, sliced, cut into cubes and added.  Once again... there’s a whole lotta shakin’ going on.  A little more salt.  A little more pepper.  Two cups worth of dry white wine go in.  Some thyme.  A few bay leaves are added, and four cloves of garlic that are crushed but not peeled. 

Ten minutes of cooking with the cover off, at which point, if you are using a whole chicken... the two breasts are removed.  The breasts are very tender and will cook faster than the other chicken parts.  So they get taken out, which prevents them from being overcooked.  Two cups’ worth of tomatoes are sliced into small pieces and added to the pot.  A little stirring and ten more minutes of cooking.  The rest of the chicken comes out.  Two tablespoons of tomato paste go in... and everything cooks for five minutes more.  The plating starts with two pieces of chicken being arranged in the center of the serving plate.  The vegetables are placed around the chicken in a circle.  A few fresh basil leaves.   A few sprigs of chervil... and it’s ready to serve.

Vincent is also going to make a salmon dish for New Year’s.  In many societies salmon is considered a luxurious ingredient, something special, and it was often used as a symbol for abundance.  Anything that stands for both opulence and plenty is an easy candidate for a dish at New Year’s Eve.

He starts with a four-ounce piece of boneless, skinless salmon which he cuts into rectangular pieces.  He cuts six pieces for each person.  A little salt and pepper goes on each; then they are held aside while the other ingredients are prepared. 

He cuts the tips off six stalks of asparagus.  Each piece ends up being about four inches long.  The asparagus is cooked in boiling water until it’s tender.  An orange sauce is made by peeling an orange and slicing it into six rounds. The juice of a second orange is poured into a saucepan and heated over a medium flame.  A pinch of salt is added.  An ounce of butter goes in.  A few grinds of pepper.

At this point the salmon is cooked.  A little butter is melted in a sauté pan and the salmon goes in for about one minute on each side.  The salmon comes out and the six rounds of oranges go into the same butter that the salmon was cooked in -- just for a minute.  Then the salmon pieces are arranged in a circle on the plate.  The slices of orange go between the salmon.  Then the asparagus tips.  The orange sauce.  Strips of chive, and an optional dab of chopped olives.   Not a bad way to end a year.

Dessert, however, is a straight shot at indulgence.  A gift for the trials of the past and a hope for the future. 

Three whole eggs go into a mixing bowl and get whisked together until they are quite fluffy and filled with air.  That’s a ten minute job by hand or about two minutes by machine.  In a second bowl, a half cup of sugar is mixed together with a half cup of flour and a cup of melted semi-sweet chocolate.  The chocolate mixture is then blended into the whipped eggs... a little of the egg mixture at first, then the rest.  You don’t want to mix so much that the air in the eggs in forced out.  The air gives the final cake its lightness. 

Half cup molds are filled about three-quarters of the way with the batter.  Then it’s into a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for twelve minutes.

Then Vincent mixes a little heavy cream together with a little Bailey’s liqueur and covers the base of the serving plate with that blend.  A design is drawn on the cream with some melted chocolate.  Finally the baked chocolate is placed onto the plate.  It looks like a little cake, but when you cut into the center it will be soft and runny like a soufflé.  Definitely a great start to a new year.

And the traditional beverage for a New Year’s celebration is champagne.  Champagne is one of the ancient regions of France and it was the place where champagne was invented. But its first formal presentation to the nobles of France was at a party at Versailles.  One of the great champagne houses is Laurent-Perrier. It is run by the family de Nonancourt. There is Bernard and his two daughters, Alexandra and Stephanie.

Their champagnes are made in a small town in the middle of Champagne and they are made by the most traditional and authentic methods.  Bernard selects his grapes from over a thousand different growers in the region, and his job is to find just the right balance.

When the grapes arrive from the growers, they are crushed and their juices allowed to ferment, which takes about two to three weeks. The sugar in the juice changes to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.  The gas is allowed to escape.  The wine from each area is held separately in a stainless steel tank.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Each champagne house tries to develop a “house style” for its non-vintage champagne, and to reproduce that style each year. The job of developing the house style and reproducing it year after year is the work of the champagne blender.  The blender will use wines from over two hundred small villages, and a number of different years, in order to develop and maintain the house style.

After the blending, the wine goes into its bottle along with a small amount of yeast and a little cane sugar.  Then the bottles go into the cellars for the next three to five years.  Shortly after they arrive, the yeast in the bottle starts a second fermentation.  Gas is formed again, but this time it is trapped in the wine -- and that’s how champagne gets its effervescent bubbles.

The next step in the process is called riddling. The bottles are held more or less on their sides. Each day a riddler comes by and turns the bottle a little to one side and slightly up.  The solids that have formed in the bottle as a result of this second fermentation slowly slide down to the neck. A riddler goes through 60,000 bottles a day.

When all the sediment is in the neck, the bottle is placed into a very cold solution of brine.  The liquid in the neck freezes. The cap is taken off and the block of sediment shoots out.  A little cane sugar is added to balance any acidity, plus some more wine to top off the bottle.  Then the cork goes on, followed by the wire covering that keeps it in place. The wire is important... there’s a considerable amount of pressure in the bottle.  Three more months of resting in the cellar and it’s ready to party.

In addition to its standard white champagnes, Laurent-Perrier makes a Rose and they make it by a rather difficult method called “vatting,” as opposed to the simple method of just adding some red wine to the white wine.  Vatting requires the grape juice to rest together with the grape skins for about two days at the very beginning of the process.  The skins give a delicate color to the champagne.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   What makes one great champagne house different from another is the style that they use in making their non-vintage champagne, and it’s a style that they use year after year.  But every once in a while the grapes of a specific year are so extraordinary that they decide to make a champagne just using the grapes of that year.  And when they do, they call it a vintage champagne.  But a vintage champagne tells you more about the year than it does about the style of the house.

When everything is perfect, the wines are used to make a champagne called Grand Siecle, which means the “Great Century.” It’s a reference to the time of King Louis XIV. Louis XIV was also known as The Sun King because he brightened everything up... often by covering it with gold. The sun became his symbol. There it is on the label.  And that is why there is a very special association between the house of Laurent-Perrier and Versailles.  They were both designed for good times.

You hear the sound of a champagne bottle opening and you think... somebody’s celebrating something!  In this particular instance, I am celebrating New Year’s Eve -- and I’m celebrating it at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City.  Clearly this is the right place for me to start my New Year.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   New Year’s is filled with superstitions, and the elaborate rituals that go along with them.  Some people feel that whatever it is you do on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day will set a pattern that will be carried on throughout the year.  They tell me that if you like your work and you want to continue in it for another year, you should carry something on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that is a symbol of your work. 

If you wear something that’s new, it will help you get new things.  It is also recommended that you get up early in the day... don’t lend anything... and don’t cry.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   New Year’s is a time where traditionally people pay a lot of attention to money.  They try to pay off all of their bills.  But it’s important to pay off those bills before New Year’s Eve.  You don’t want to start the new year laying out money.  It might set a pattern and you’ll end up laying out money all year long.  They also tell me you should keep some money in your pocket on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day. And if you have children, put some money into their pockets.  There’s also a plan that says you should hide some money outside your home on New Year’s Eve and then take it in on New Year’s Day.  Might send a signal.

In Scotland there is a belief that the first person to come into your home on New Year’s will set the tone for the next year. The person is referred to as the First Footer, and is sometimes chosen by the family in an attempt to control their own luck.  The person should be tall, dark-haired, not flat-footed and not have eyebrows that meet in the middle of his brow.  He is sometimes called “the lucky bird.” He may bring a gift, but it should be something that will be used up and it should not be taken out of the house again.

VISITOR:  A piece of coal... some salt... and a bottle of whisky.

WOMAN:  Thank you very much.  Do come in.

VISITOR:  Thank you very much.

In France, there was a time when many people would use New Year’s Day to pay a visit to the home of associates or people they wished were their associates.  Almost always the people you went out to see weren’t home because they were out trying to visit people that they wished were their associates.  The result was that almost no one was at home -- but you left your visiting card, to show you cared enough.  Eventually everyone gave up leaving the card in person and just popped it in the mail... which is how our present custom of mailing New Year’s cards got started.  Traditionally, the French gave their seasonal gift on New Year’s.  It wasn’t until the 1960’s that they started giving Christmas gifts!

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   These days we make a great effort to differentiate New Year’s from Christmas.  Christmas is basically private, a family affair, and we pay a lot of attention to our children.  New Year’s, on the other hand, is public and designed primarily for adults.

The moment when the Old Year becomes the New is also very important.  You’re supposed to stay up and be clear-headed as the bells start to toll.  It is a turning point and you want to be able to consciously direct your fate at this very significant moment.  It’s important to be happy as the bells ring.  The whole idea of the New Year’s Eve party is just to support the idea of being happy as the New Year begins.  You want to get off on the right foot.

HOST:  Ladies and gentlemen, we’re closing in on the last minute, about to welcome in a new year!  We’ve got about ten seconds left here -- nine!

EVERYBODY:  Eight!  Seven!  Six!  Five!  Four!  Three!  Two!  One!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

New Year’s Eve tends to be noisy. In farm communities it was important to keep your crops and animals free of evil spirits at the moment that the new year began.  The tried and true technique for keeping evil spirits on the move appears to be blowing horns and banging drums. Old farmers tell me it was very effective.  Keeping evil spirits away is clearly one of the reasons that the moment when the Old Year becomes the New is greeted with shouting, blowing whistles, tooting horns, and ringing bells. Making noise is often part of a ritual that starts something new.  It’s like banging on a door to make it open.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  New Year’s Day was often used to visit the oldest members of your family and to have dinner with them.  And it was always a mark of honor to do the visiting.  Which is why I would like to thank you for visiting with us while we took a look at the rituals of New Year’s. And I hope you will join us next time, as we travel around the world looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Celebrating Christmas in Germany - #116

Of all the gatherings and celebrations in the Western world, none is more important  than Christmas.  Originally it was a purely religious occasion, celebrating the birth of Christ.  Commercial elements in our modern society, however, have made a great effort to broaden the event.  Their hope is to have Christmas include everyone who could possibly buy something. Anything!!!

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  During the fourth century, the emperor Constantine the Great declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Very often when a new religion takes over, it marks the days for its feasts at about the same time as the days for the feasts of the old religion.  It makes the transition easier.  Christmas is a good example of what I mean.  December 21st is the day of the year with  the longest night.  The ancient Romans used that day for a feast to say that even though you couldn’t see much sun on that day, the sun was unconquerable and eventually would return.  The idea of light returning became a symbol for Christ.  As a matter of fact, for hundreds of years one of Christ’s titles was “Unconquerable Sun.” And that’s one of the reasons that light plays such an important part in the Christmas feast.

The straw, radiating like rays of light around the baby in the manger, is a graphic symbol of the idea.

This is the German city of Trier, and it was once the home of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great.  At the time, Trier was considered to be among the four great centers of the world, along with Constantinople, Rome and Alexandria in Egypt.  Trier is thought to be the oldest city in Germany, and we’ve come here to take a look at the celebration of Christmas.  We decided to look at Christmas in this part of the world for a very simple reason.  As our research on the history of Christmas traditions got started, we found out that many of the rituals of Christmas in the English-speaking world actually began in Germany.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  There are two important periods of abstinence during the Christian year.  The first is Lent, which takes place during the six weeks before Easter, and the second is Advent, which takes place during the four weeks before Christmas.  In both cases the idea is to prepare for a feast by not feasting.  The word Advent means “Coming” and it is a period that is marked by a heightened sense of expectation.

These days Advent calendars are found all over the Christian world, but the custom began in Germany.  The calendar starts with the first day of Advent, and there is a little door for each day until Christmas.  Inside the door there is a picture or saying or a little gift. On each day of Advent one of the doors is opened.  The sense of expectancy increases as the number of days to Christmas is visibly decreased.

Germany is also the home of the Christkindlemarkt. It is an ancient market that starts each year on or about December 4th.  It is held in the old marketplaces and continues until Christmas. 

BURT WOLF:   Are you obligated to kiss if you’re standing under the mistletoe, or is it an option?

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  Well, I don’t really know -- I think one can call you on it, but it always depends, you know?

I learned about this market in Trier when I came to this area of Germany to talk to Barbara Rundquist-Muller about the Christmas traditions of the region.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  During Christmas time, obviously a lot of candles are used, but mostly green, white and red.  And now you have them also with all the kind of flavors to them.  This here’s called “Christmas Miracle.”  And you can smell it...

BURT WOLF:   Oh, it has a wonderful smell!

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  Yeah.  It’s a little bit like in a church, you know?  The real Christmassy --

BURT WOLF:   Oh yes --

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  -- the little traditional Christmassy way...

BURT WOLF:   Not quite a miracle, but not bad.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  No!  And that one... this one is Christmas tree.

BURT WOLF:   Ooh.

SHOPKEEPER:  That one tastes cinnamon, very much like...

BURT WOLF:   Cinnamon? 

SHOPKEEPER:  Cinnamon, zimt, that brown one.

BURT WOLF:   Zimt?

CUSTOMER:  Do you have candles for pyramids?

SHOPKEEPER:  No, we don’t...

BURT WOLF:   Oh, yeah! 

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  (laughing)  Eat it, eat it.

BURT WOLF:   I’d take a bite outa that if it was any more cinnamonny.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  Exactly.  Thank you.

BURT WOLF:   Thank you.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  Here you have all the pieces of the traditional crib that is used under the Christmas tree, carved out of wood -- the donkey, the ox, the Child, mother Mary, Joseph... you just have the whole scenery that is traditionally put under the Christmas tree for the kids to look at. 

The idea of gift-giving is actually a major part of the story of Christmas. The Christ child is seen as a Christmas present from God to humanity.  The three kings also brought presents.  And human beings are expected to respond to God’s generosity by continuing the giving of gifts.

Of the things that are offered for sale in the Christmas market the most significant are the foods and things made of food.  One of the most important rules in any festival is that the festival itself and most of the objects within it must be temporary.  A festival by definition is something out of the ordinary, different from everyday life.  It must come and then it must go. If it stays around too long it will lose its impact.  Food is perfect for this role because it doesn’t last.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  Now, this is a typical specialty also for the Christmas market -- it’s mulled wines.  It’s spiced wine, you have cinnamon, you have clove, and it’s hot, and that’s what makes it most attractive on this kind of market.

BURT WOLF:   Warms your inside and your outside.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  Yes, and especially the hands and everything. 

The market has stands with Pfefferkuchen, which means “peppernuts.”  There are lebkuchen or honey cakes, frosted cookies with elaborate designs. The foods that are part of a feast like Christmas must feel ancient in order to fulfill their role of connecting us to the past. Using pepper and strong spices in cakes goes all the way back to the time of the ancient Romans and the birth of Christ.

The traditional pre-Christmas meal is rather simple.  The main dish is usually fish, most often carp.  In Germany it’s lucky to receive the roe with your portion. The common idea is that a lot of little eggs mean a lot of good fortune.   The vegetable dish will include cabbage and beets.  Red and green are always the colors of Christmas.  Red is there for the warmth and brightness; green is a promise that the leaves will return to the trees which are now barren.  There are lots of special breads and cakes. One of the most typical is Christstollen, filled with nuts and raisins, and other dried fruits.  It is almost the German version of the English Christmas pudding.  And there are dozens of different baked sweet cakes and cookies -- marzipan, anise cakes, almond cookies, hazelnut macaroons, chocolate pretzels.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Apples are also very important at Christmas time.  They are bright and shiny, very much part of our modern diet.  But they are also a symbol of the apple on the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.  They show our intelligence, our resourcefulness, our ability to keep foods edible during the long winter.  They are another symbol of light and hope or during a time of darkness.

Nuts keep showing up.  They represent the puzzles of life.  You must open them up to find your destiny. 

Traaben-Trarbach is a picturesque town on the Mosel River, and in the middle of the town there’s a great little restaurant called Die Goldenen Traube, with means “The Golden Grape.”

BURT WOLF:   In the front hall there is a Christmas tree that is famous for its nutty decorations.  It’s covered with hazelnuts, and the technique is rather simple.  You take the nuts, with the shells on, you put them into boiling water and you keep them there for ten minutes.  Then you drain them from the water, and while they are still warm, you crack it, but you don’t crack it all the way through.  You just want that little opening, and you hold the opening open, and you put it over one of the needles, and it closes up and stays on.  Ally, is this an old thing in your family?

ALLY ALLMACKER:  It’s a very old thing in my family, from my grandfather, who did it as long as he lived, and he was born in 1885 and started it about 1910.  And since that time, he did that tradition every year.

BURT WOLF:   Is it done by other families, or it’s just your family? 

ALLY ALLMACKER:  It’s just our family doing it still today.  The old families knew it years ago before, but actually it’s a lot of work!  (laughs)

BURT WOLF:   It’s natural, it’s beautiful -- oh, sorry -- and you can eat your mistakes.

ERIK LUNDQUIST:  You know, these steep vineyards are very important...

Barbara Rundquist-Muller and her husband, Erik Rundquist, help manage the family winery, which is named after her grandfather, Rudolf Muller.  Making wine in the Mosel is not easy work.  This is some of the hilliest country in Germany.  The slopes along the river banks are nearly vertical and the cultivation and harvesting is really work for mountaineers. 

ERIK LUNDQUIST:  When the Romans came north, about two thousand years ago, they brought winegrowing with them.  And winegrowing this far north is only possible due to these very special climatic conditions.  It’s a microclimate, where the steep, slatey vineyards go down to the Mosel River.  You know, sugar in the grapes develops by the sun shining down on the leaves.  So the more inclination the vineyard has, the more sun touches the leaves of the grapes, and the more sugar we have.

The Mullers are some of the most traditional winemakers in the Mosel valley.  Their family has been making wine in this area since the 12th Century.

ERIK LUNDQUIST:  So this cellar was carved here into the rock under the Berncasteler Doctor vineyard about 350 years ago.  The constant temperature here in the cellar is 45 Fahrenheit, and the grape must is brought in here after being pressed and put in these wooden barrels, where it is then fermented into wine.  Okay, bye-bye.  I’m gonna get some wine for our lunch.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  My favorite wine, actually, on an everyday basis, is our Bishop of Riesling, which we named in honor of the local archbishop, [his name], who was not only an archbishop but he was the local governor.  And actually two hundred years ago, he issued The Riesling Decree.  In the valley there had been growing a lot of other, or minor grape varieties; he forced the growers to do away with them and to replant the valley with Riesling, because he knew that that gave the best results and made the most beautiful wines here.

BURT WOLF:   What a good bishop!           

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  It’s a fantastic bishop!  And we decided to honor him by naming our most widely-distributed wine in his honor.

BURT WOLF:   And the Doctor?

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  Well, that is the best we have.  That’s our whole pride.  The Berncasteler Doctor is actually right above us, the vineyard, and the vineyard was given its name after a legend.  The legend says that in the Fourteenth Century, there was a prince living in the castle.  He was very ill and he was about to die; his doctors couldn’t help him.  So he sent them away and said, “At least let me die in peace.”  But the local people, they liked him very much.  So one grower from the town, he took his best barrel of wine and carried it all the way up to the castle, and offered it to the prince and said, “Well, this wine has always helped my family; why don’t you take that?  It might cure you.”  And believe it or not, the prince, he sat and sipped and sipped and sat, and by the time the barrel was empty he had recovered.  So he called again for the grower and said, “What can I give you?  You saved my life!”  The grower said, “Well, there’s actually nothing I lack.  I’m just happy the way it is.”  So the prince said, “Well, if I can’t give you anything, then please do something.  Call this wine from now on The Doctor, because it’s the only real doctor in the world.”

BURT WOLF:   Seven hundred years later my doctors are giving me the same advice.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  Good advice!

BURT WOLF:   Let’s go to the kitchen.

The wines of the Mosel are naturally low in alcohol content, which makes them a naturally good companion to food.  Which is my not-very-subtle way of leading up to the fact that Barbara is going to teach us one of her family’s traditional Christmas recipes.  It’s a vegetable and Riesling soup.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  I’m cooking together turnip, leeks and onion, and turnip basically takes the longest to get soft.  So when I grate it very fine, which it does on every food grater, then it will kind of cook at the same speed as the onion and the leeks.  I use about the same quantity of each three of them.  Now I have the basic ingredients, so I’ll take a pan, and I take some butter -- just a lump of butter -- and I add the turnip, the onions, and the leeks.  Now I put the pan on the stove and let basically the butter melt on it, and then slowly cook the vegetables in the butter.  You have to stir them constantly so that it won’t fry; they’re not supposed to get brown.  They’re just supposed to get soft.  Now that the butter has melted and they’re a little bit soft, I take some white wine; I mostly use -- basically it’s a Riesling soup, so it’s Riesling.  I take The Bishop of Riesling; it’s a hundred percent Riesling from our area, and I let it boil in the wine, because like that the flavors of the vegetables and the flavors of the Riesling get together.  You have to stir it to make sure that they don’t get browned, you don’t want them brown.  You want them just cooked in the wine.  Now I will take off the pot from the stove and I will use a food blender, and I will puree.  Doesn’t have to be completely pureed; it’s just that the whole flavors kind of get together.

BURT WOLF:   A little chunkiness is kind of nice; I like that.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  Yes, it’s better -- I think I prefer that to having it completely mashy.  Now what I do, I take some beef broth.  As you can see I used about half a bottle of wine, and so I add the same amount of beef broth to it.

BURT WOLF:   About two cups.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  Yes, about two cups.  I put it back on the stove.

BURT WOLF:   That’s a very easy soup.

BARBARA RUNDQUIST-MULLER:  Yes, but for me, that’s what holidays are all about.  I love cooking, I love to cook for my family and friends, but at the same time it’s also supposed to be a holiday for the housewife.  And so it’s nice to have something that is tasty but that is easy to prepare, where you don’t have to run for hours to get the ingredients home, and you don’t have to stand for five hours in the kitchen.  And just to round the whole off, about a cup of cream -- just a little bit for the taste.  So this is our perfect holiday starter in our family.

BURT WOLF:   Beautiful!

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): In Europe, every country has its own Christmas foods and its Christmas Eve dinner rituals.  In Poland, people will often put a piece of straw under the tablecloth so that the dishes sit on a slant. It reminds them of Christ’s poverty.  In Russia they will often invite a foreign visitor to dinner, or leave a chair open for a passing stranger.

In many towns St. Nicholas actually comes to the homes of the residents and meets the children.  The parents will often slip him a note with information about each child.  He reads the list, announcing what each child has done throughout the past year, both good and bad.  The children have no idea how he knows.  Very often good old St. Nick is accompanied by a “darker self” -- a frightening figure.

In parts of Germany where St. Nicholas does not actually appear but passes in the night like Santa Claus, children will leave a shoe or a stocking beside their beds or outside the door. In the case of a good child St. Nicholas will leave a present; bad children get a stick. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  When I was a kid, the custom in my family was to leave a bad child a potato and a piece of charcoal, which is, of course, why I know so much about cooking potatoes. 

Sometime around the year 10 B.C., the Roman legions marched into this part of what is now the German city of Wiesbaden.  They were attracted by a series of hot springs that came up in the area and built a fortified camp on the spot.  The Romans loved hot springs.  They felt that a nice warm bath was an essential part of preserving good health.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  About a hundred years later, the Romans built a fortress in what is now the very center of town. A few years after that, they turned the fortress into a spa for their troops, a little place for the soldiers to stop between battles and maybe have a facial or a pedicure.  You know, they wore those open-toed sandals and they were very sensitive about the way their feet looked.  During the Middle Ages it became an inn, and in the 1800’s it was turned into a hotel, which eventually became known as the Nassauer Hof.  All of which is to say that people have been having a very good time at this location for over 2,000 years.

The hot waters of the spa are still here. And the rest of the Nassauer Hof is pretty hot stuff, too.  The hotel’s restaurants are considered to be some of the finest.  And they really turn it out for Christmas.  Chef Andreas Hauk has put together a table of his Christmas favorites.

ANDREAS HAUK:  So we start with the Red Cabbage. 

BURT WOLF:   Okay.

ANDREAS HAUK:  First we have to cut him  [sic; he uses “him” for “it” often].  This is a special machine there, yah?  We put in some clove...

BURT WOLF:   Cloves...

ANDREAS HAUK:  How you say...?

BURT WOLF:   Juniper berries!

ANDREAS HAUK:  Juniper berries, oh.  Laurel leaves, cinnamon, salt -- season it -- and some pepper.  We put some red wine on him;  then you have to press him, you know?  That’s better to get all the wine in there.  Now we put cling film on the top, put it twenty-four hours in the fridge. 

BURT WOLF:   Okay.

ANDREAS HAUK:  To marinate it, yah?

BURT WOLF:   Yeah.

ANDREAS HAUK:  Okay.  So now, put in some sliced onions, press the cabbage to get the wine out.  He must be cooked down.  Sometimes you have to taste it.  Put in some sugar.  He must be cooked very softly, you know? 

BURT WOLF:   How long?

ANDREAS HAUK:  One hour.  Soft, yah?

BURT WOLF:   Low flame.

ANDREAS HAUK:  Low, low.  Now we have to grate an apple in there, peeled apple.  So that’s normally the red cabbage finished now, yah?  It’s one of the most favorite in Germany on Christmas.

In some German homes you will also see a “Star of Seven,” a seven-branched candlestick that was inherited from the Jewish tradition.  They are lit every evening during Advent, and eventually carried to the midnight service on Christmas Eve.  The custom was one of the rituals that eventually led to the lights on the Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree was already a well-established tradition in Germany when Prince Albert, the German husband of Britain’s Queen Victoria, introduced it to England during the 1840s.  The Christmas tree then made its way from England to North America.  It also used the more direct route from Germany, coming over with the great immigrations of the 19th Century.  Families may have home-made Christmas tree decorations, often extremely elaborate, and often inherited as family heirlooms.  Each will have its own story.  Who made it.  When.  How.  Stories about things that happened in connection with it.  The decorations and the stories are a way of keeping the family’s memory alive.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   In obedience to the rule that festivals are only temporary, the tree must come down right after Epiphany, on the sixth of January.  The tree is there for the feast and only for the feast.  Germans are very strict about this rule.  They feel if the tree is kept up too long, the house will be haunted by bad luck.

And finally there is Santa Claus -- the symbol of a benevolent figure, giving gifts, laughing, old and vigorous like the history of the Christmas feast.  He comes out of the sky and brings happiness to children.  Nice guy, but at some point we discover that he is not real.  A fictional character put in place by the adult world.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Some people believe that Santa Claus was developed as a clever initiation device, and that a child would find out The Truth about Santa Claus when it was time to make the passage between the age of innocence and the age of reason -- a passage that I certainly made when I was a kid.  But as I got older I began to think that maybe there were additional messages from Christmas -- that perhaps  the greatest gifts of life were not the material objects being offered me by adults, and perhaps the greatest light was not the light around me but the light inside me.  And those two became the most important messages of the season for me.  Well, that’s alook at Christmas in Germany; I hope you will join us next time as we travel around he world looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Finland's Midsummer Festivals - #115

Ancient astronomers believed that the sun traveled around the earth on a gigantic track. Each day the sun would move a distance equivalent to its own width.    It took six months to travel from its furthest point in the north to its furthest point in the south.  When it got to one end of the track, it would turn around and head back.  The most northerly point was called the Tropic of Cancer; the most southerly point, the Tropic of Capricorn. The word tropic is Greek and it means “the turning point.” The sun appeared to stop for a few days at each turning point before it made the return trip.  That stop was called a solstice, which is a Latin word, and it means “the sun stands still.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The old astronomers believed that the sun made one stop during the summer and one stop during the winter.  They were both very significant.  The summer stop takes place on June 21.  That’s the day of the year with the most amount of light. In many cultures it is an extremely important feast day.  And that’s particularly true here in Finland.

During the Midsummer weekend, the people of Finland celebrate the birth of St. John the Baptist.  The Christian church placed that birthday on June 24th.  John’s birthday celebration is used to remind people of John’s special relationship to Christ.  John was born in the summer -- exactly six months before Christ.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Christ said that John was “a shining light.” And Midsummer Day is the brightest day of the year.  John said of Christ that Christ  would grow brighter as he, John, grew dimmer.  And that’s exactly what happens with the sun.  In the six months after Christ’s birth, the sun gets brighter and brighter.  In the six months after John’s birth, the sun gets dimmer and dimmer.  In some countries Midsummer Day is called after St. John -- Saint Jacques in France, San Juan in Spain, Juhannus here in Finland.

John baptized Christ, and that’s one reason for water being an important part of this celebration.  For many centuries people also believed that on Midsummer’s Day all waters had special healing powers.  People would go into the rivers and lakes on Midsummer Day and bathe themselves.  They believed that the water would wash away evil spirits, while at the same time setting up a protective coating.  In Finland, a common Midsummer Day ritual allowed women to bathe naked in streams that ran through the property of men they fancied.  The women believed that this technique would help them attract their desired mate.  Hmmm.  Well... yes... I could see how that might work.

Finland celebrates St. Juhannus’ Day over a weekend.  At some point there is a symbolic “marriage” between water and fire.  People go out to the shore of a lake to hold their festivities and build their fires.  The water is the element for cleansing and baptism.  The fire is clearly a symbol of the sun.  They might stay at a family’s cottage by a lake or visit friends.  They renew contact with each other and with nature.  The swimming is very important.  And so is the sauna.  In Finland, the sauna is a distinct and very significant form of gathering, with a considerable amount of ritual.

The sauna is a national institution in Finland.  No one knows when the Finns first got into the sauna, but local anthropologists believe that saunas have been part of Finnish life for at least two thousand years.  It’s possible for a Finnish family to have a sauna but no house, but it’s virtually impossible to have a house without a sauna.  An old Finnish saying goes, “First you build the sauna and then you build the house.” 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Whenever a new home is built, a sauna is included.  There are central saunas in apartment buildings, corporations have corporate saunas, and they are absolutely essential in hotels.  In rural Finland, it was traditional to give birth in a sauna.  It was a quiet, intimate and safe place.  And because of the high temperature, it was relatively free of harmful bacteria.

The sauna structure itself is actually very simple.  It’s a room made of white spruce or western red cedar wood, with a few benches.  There’s a heating unit that brings the temperature of the room into a range of 160 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.  Everybody settles in and gets accustomed to the heat.  Then you sprinkle water on the hot rocks that are part of the heating system.  The water produces steam.  One of the unique aspects of the sauna is that it is the only bath that gives you control of both the heat and the humidity.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The sauna is also a ritual of purification as well as cleansing.  It often involves beating yourself with birch twigs.  The idea is to increase circulation and perspiration, and introduce you to the proposed benefits of mild self- flagellation.  Ohhh, this feels so good!

Because birch does not toughen until late in the year, young birch twigs have always been a favorite wood for making whips.  The birch whip was also thought to be the ideal method for driving off evil spirits, especially those that are believed to fly around on Midsummer Eve.  When you feel you have reached your ideal temperature, it’s time to go out for a cool-down.  You can take a shower or a bath.  In the summertime you can go for a swim.  If it’s winter and you are an old- fashioned Finn, you might even roll around in the snow or jump into a lake through a hole in the ice. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  If you think you might have any medical problems, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor before you take a sauna.  In terms of rolling in the snow or jumping through a hole in the ice into the lake, you might also consider talking to a psychiatrist. 

After the cool-down you can return to the sauna.  The heating and cooling is repeated two or three times.  Each period in the sauna is called an “inning.” In general, men sauna with men and women with women.  The sauna is a very proper and moral place.  It is not unusual for corporations to hold their directors’ meetings in a sauna, and from time to time even the nation’s cabinet meetings are held in a sauna.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The Finns have exported their sauna tradition around the world.  Originally the attraction to the sauna was based on the fact that it was relaxing.  It reduced the stress of life.  But a recent series of scientific studies have increased the list of advantages.

It appears that a sauna can relax muscles, reduce pain after a workout, burn calories through the process of sweating, condition your heart, improve circulation, cleanse your skin, and induce a deeper, more relaxing sleep.  Add to that the driving off of evil spirits and you’re talking some serious benefits.

Later in the day, everybody sits down to eat.  There are a number of traditional summer foods in Finland.  Preserved meats and liver pate with pickled apples.  A simple salad.  Mixed forest mushrooms.  Cold grilled salmon.  Glassmakers’ herring.  Marinated Baltic herring.  Gravlax and boiled new potatoes.  Finn Crisp with pate, caviar and fresh Brie cheese.  Finnish bleu cheese and Emmenthal.  Different kinds of breads.  A block of butter cut to look like a Swiss cheese.  Grilled herring, cold smoked salmon and prawns.  Warm sweet pancakes, cloudberries, raspberries.  Marinated melons.  Grilled Lapland cheese.  Pies, cakes, tarts, and Midsummer strawberries.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  As soon as the summer berries arrive, they are baked into everything -- pies, tarts, cakes, muffins.  If they can get a berry into it, they do.

This is a traditional bakery carrying the breads that have been part of the Finnish diet for hundreds of years.  Most of them are made of rye flour.  The Finns believe that rye flour will make you fit.  They say that a man “has rye in his wrist” when they mean he is strong.  The meat shop carries something called “sauna-smoked ham.”  In the old days, they would actually hang a ham in the sauna and use the sauna smoke to preserve the meat.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  And everywhere there are new potatoes -- the smaller, the better.  They’re cooked in water that has a little salt and dill for added flavor, and served with just a touch of butter.  The Finns believe that potatoes that are cooked before Christmas should go into boiling water.  Potatoes that are cooked after Christmas should go into cold water which is then brought to the boil.  The newer the potato, the less water it needs.  Old potatoes need the moisture.

There’s a specialty shop that deals in reindeer meat, which is very low in fat, and free of antibiotics.  Pürakha is a traditional pastry, originally from the northeast part of Finland, which is called Karilia.  The dough is filled with mashed potatoes or rice.  It’s a real Finnish classic.  

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Licorice is a big deal in Finland; there’s a salted variety, and doctors recommend you keep that to a limit because of the possible negative effects on your blood pressure.  My personal preference, however, is for the sweet variety, which is really good for me because it’s part of my exercise program.

Finland is also the land of Vodka.  It’s a drink, but one with a lot of tradition, and a sizable amount of ritual.  The word vodka means “little water”... a valid description.  Water is a very important ingredient in the production of vodka. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  It appears that vodka was first produced just across the border from here in Russia.  And it may have been as early as the 900’s.  There are documents that indicate that an early form of vodka was being produced back then, and tax agents were bouncing around collecting fees for its manufacture.  Eventually vodka became the national drink of all of the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea, including Finland.  And these days, all Finnish vodka is produced by a government agency, in a single plant just outside the capital city of Helsinki.  And right next to that plant is a museum totally devoted to the history of vodka. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   This is an old photograph of a Finnish farmer’s wife using a homemade still to produce vodka, the way Finnish farmers have for hundreds of years.  It’s a pretty straightforward process.  You take a food that’s high in complex carbohydrates, like potatoes or beets, crush it into a mash, add some yeast and water.  The yeast causes fermentation.  That means that the sugar in the potato is turned to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.  The gas just floats away;  the potato and the alcohol go into a still.  It’s heated.  The alcohol turns into a gas and comes up.  The impurities in the potato mash are left behind.  The gas is forced down through these tubes, through a bucket filled with snow.  The low temperature causes the gas to re-condense into a liquid, which drips out into this bucket.  That pure alcohol has water added to it, and the farmer ends up with vodka.  Eventually the kings of Finland decided that this was much too valuable a process to be left to amateurs, even if they were gifted, and the Crown became the exclusive producer of vodka. Today Finland is a democracy, but the government is still in charge of all vodka production. 

This is a small laboratory still used as part of the company’s quality control system, but the large stills that actually produce their vodka do the exact same thing. The Finlandia plant uses a very sophisticated system of distillation that produces the purest vodka in the world. Instead of potatoes or beets, the basic mash is made from barley grain, which results in a much smoother drink.  The mash is heated.  The alcohol turns to steam and is separated from the impurities of the mash.  The steam goes up, turns and heads down.  As it does, it passes through a tube that is cooled by a jacket of cold water.  The pure alcohol condenses from a steam back into a liquid.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The technology for distilling alcohol arrived in Spain during the early 700s, when the Moors came over from Africa.  That same distillation technology, however, probably arrived in northern Europe from China.  The Chinese invented gunpowder.  Distilled alcohol is an essential ingredient in gunpowder.  And Russia’s eastern frontier was always in contact with the Chinese.

The association of alcohol and gunpowder is of particular importance here.   In 1939 the Russian army invaded Finland.  The Finnish army defended its nation in one of the most difficult environments in the world.  They fought back with everything they had.  Which wasn’t very much.  Finland’s ski troops learned to cover their uniforms in white overalls, which made it almost impossible for the Russians to see them during the winter war.  They built dams and flooded the areas through which the Russians were advancing.  They conducted their troop movements in the forests so they would be hard to see.  On the other side, the Russians had hundreds of tanks, and they used their tank commands as the primary units for their advance.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The Finns had a few anti-tank guns, and a few anti-aircraft guns like this one, but basically they took on the Russian tanks with a cocktail -- a cocktail made by women working for the government in this plant.  At the time, this facility was used for making vodka.  As a matter of fact, it still is.  But the vodka for the Russian Anti-Tank Cocktail was quite special.  They took the alcohol that they were using to make vodka and put it in this bottle.  Then they added a little tar, a little turpentine and a little gasoline.  They taped two giant matches to the outside.  A Finnish soldier would light the matches, run up to the Russian tank and drop the bottle down the tank’s exhaust pipe.  The glass would break, the flame would come in contact with the liquid, the liquid exploded and immobilized the tank.  They named this little cocktail after the Russian foreign minister at the time... Mr. Molotov.  This is the home of the original Molotov Cocktail.

The spot where the government produces all of its Finlandia vodka was originally chosen in 1888 because it had a well with extraordinarily pure water.  The well and its water are as pure as ever.  Remember, Finland is glacier country.  Vodka has been the national drink of Finland for generations.  In 1970 the government decided to export its brand, and it has become one of the most popular brands in the world.

Of course, it’s the length and intensity of the winter that makes Midsummer Day so important.  You don’t see a Midsummer celebration in Hawaii.  Some of my hosts are celebrating the midnight sun with a drink called a Midnight Sun.  It’s two parts cranberry vodka, and five parts orange juice.  Eventually everybody toasts the midnight sun in a three-chambered glass that reminds them of the horns of a reindeer.  It’s all very Finnish.

WOMAN TOASTS IN FINNISH

When Finns make their toasts on Midsummer’s Day, they are usually making a wish for their future, which is very appropriate for a day that celebrates the birth of St. John. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The Bible tells us that John was a great prophet.  The Finns took that bit of  information and added it to a group of pre-Christian beliefs.  The result is an enormous collection of superstitions indicating that Midsummer Day is the day to look into the future.

In one old Finnish practice, an egg white is poured into a glass that is half-full of water.  Then it’s left for twenty-four hours. It’s important to place the water on a window-ledge or someplace where it will be “in the eye of the sun” during the entire Midsummer Day.

 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Next morning you can read the future in the swirly shapes.  It’s a joining together of two of the most important symbols of Midsummer Day... sun and water. The sun shines down on the water.  The egg white records the activity between the two and gives you the message. It’s kind of like reading tea leaves.

A lot of the superstitions deal with women finding out which man they will marry.  Sun and water are often part of fertility themes.  Because Midsummer is a time of flowers and vegetation, there are lots of superstitions about plants.  Perhaps the most common is the practice of going out and picking seven or nine different kinds of flowers, and making them into a wreath.  On Midsummer night, women sleep with that wreath under their pillow, and dream about the man they will marry.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Another favorite way to take a look at the future is a “silent cake”.  A group of women bake a cake like this without talking to each other while they’re doing the baking.  Then they take a small piece of the crust and sleep with it under their pillow.  The crust is supposed to induce a dream that will tell them about the future.  Often it will tell them about the man in their life.  But sometimes it’ll tell them about the life in their man.

Midsummer night is also the time to cut off the top of a rose and keep it until Christmas Day.  Then you wear it on your dress and the man who takes it off will marry you.  Good thing to know if you’re in Finland during Christmas.  The birch tree also plays a role in the Midsummer celebration.  In Finland the birch is to Midsummer what the pine is to Christmas.  In northern European folklore, the birch represents “beginnings.” In most areas of Finland, it is the first tree to send out new leaves.  In England, the traditional financial year began on the first of April because that was the day the birch was said to start sprouting.  In Scandinavia, the leafing of the birch marks the beginning of the agricultural year.  It sends a signal to farmers that it is time to plant their grain. 

In Finland, more people get married during the Midsummer celebrations than any other weekend of the year.  It’s a time when the bathing rituals have washed away evil spirits and new beginnings can be made.  It is a time when you are supposed to be able to see into the future, and therefore be in a better position to make an important decision.  The traditional “Wedding March,” which is played all over the Western world, was written by Felix Mendelssohn.  He wrote it  for his suite “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  The theme of marriage resonates throughout Finland on Midsummer weekend -- the joining together of a man and a woman is echoed later in the day by a marriage of fire and water.  Fire has long been a masculine symbol, and water, a feminine one.

Midsummer Day is always marked by the lighting of fires.  They are fires that are believed to encourage the sun to keep up its good work.  It is one of the oldest surviving rituals in Europe.   Each year, a couple that has just been married is rowed off to a small island off the coast of Helsinki.   Thousands of people gather on the shores to watch this solemn ceremony.  A giant tower is constructed of fir trees and the hulls of boats.  Together the bride and groom set the tower ablaze.  It is an ancient ritual appealing to the sun... a request for its eternal warmth and light.  The couple represents all of the men and women married that day in Finland, and their collective hope for a bright future.   The word bonfire comes from “bone fire” and reminds us that there was a time when these fires were made from the bones of animals.  The bones in the bonfires were filled with mystical powers that would ward off evil spirits.  The most important evil spirit that needed to be warded off was, of course, the one that could make the sun grow weaker.  No sun, no life.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The Midsummer Day celebration brings us face to face with the realization that we are all living in a world that keeps on changing, no matter what we do.  Everything has a beginning and an end, whether we like it or not. Midsummer Day, like all festivals, tries to draw a balance.  It tells us to begin new things just as the old ones are coming to an end... to rejoice in the brightness even though we know the darkness is on its way.  Midsummer Day stands in relation to Christmas Day.  It reminds us that the darkest days of December are actually days of rebirth -- a rebirth that will eventually bring us to the brightest days of summer.   Please join us next time as we travel around the world, looking at gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Food and Romance in Verona - #114

We know that people have been living in the region of Verona since prehistoric times.  But the oldest remaining structures are from the days of the ancient Romans.  Twenty-one hundred years ago, this was a major Roman settlement -- and you can still see parts of the actual buildings that stood here.  The number of Roman remains in Verona and the quality of their preservation is second only to Rome. 

This is what remains of the Lion’s Gate, which was the entrance to the city during the first century BC.

In size and historic importance, the Roman Amphitheatre in Verona is almost as significant as the Coliseum in Rome.  It’s over two thousand years old.  When it opened, it was used for the battles between gladiators, sporting competitions and the general spectacles that were put on by the government.  These days it’s used for the presentation of operas.

Verona is itself a museum that is easy to visit.  A simple guide book and a good pair of walking shoes are all you need.  The Piazza dei Signori was built in the 1200s.  All the entrances to the square are accented with arches.  In the center of the square is the statue of Dante, the author of The Divine Comedy.  When his political beliefs became offensive to the rulers of Florence, he moved here to Verona, and lived under the protection of the Scala family.  To the side of Dante is The Palazzo del Comune.  Its walls are constructed of the distinctive bands of brick and stone that are used throughout the city.

Verona is also packed with wonderful churches.  Verona’s cathedral, known as the Duomo, was consecrated in 1187.  Students of art are particularly interested in the double arches over the entrance.  The first church on the site of San Zeno Maggiore was built during the 400s.  The present structure was put up during the 1100s.  It’s considered to be one of the great examples of Romanesque architecture.  The panels on the doors present scenes from the Old and New Testaments, stories of belief and devotion.

Of all the stories that can be told in Verona, the story that is most often associated with this city is the story of Romeo and Juliet.  Shakespeare set his play here and lovers have taken it to be the truth for the past four hundred years.  Number 23 Via Capello is said to be the actual home of Juliet.  This would have been the courtyard where their great love scene took place -- and the balcony. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Interesting thing about the relationship of love and food... many of the same words that are part of the vocabulary of romance are the same words that are part of the vocabulary of cooking.  I’ll run down a few.  You think about them in terms of love, and I’ll think about them in terms of things that go on in the kitchen.  Steamy... hot... tender... moist... juicy... spicy... delicious... hungry.  I’d better stop or I’m gonna end up with the first R-rated recipe, which could be too hot to handle.  In either case, Verona is an ideal city to take a look at the relationship of love and food.

Romeo and Juliet, as the play or the ballet, is the story of clashing families that threaten to destroy the fabric of society.  The young lovers, however, are wiser than their society, but the madness of their culture destroys them.  Their destruction is a lesson:  Don’t let your society split up into factions that hate each other.  That kind of conflict will destroy the culture’s youth.  When Romeo and Juliet die, everyone realizes how wrong things are, but by then it’s too late.  The tragedy has taken place. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In reality, Romeo and Juliet may or may not have existed -- but their families, or families like theirs, certainly did.  It was a time in Italy where the powerful families were getting bigger and bigger.  They began to bang up against each other and feel crowded.  There was constant fighting in the streets. One of the things that reduced the tension was a marriage where two families ended up in an alliance.  That smoothed things out and made life a lot more peaceful.

Marriage was important -- but the real issue was children.  A society needs children:  no children, no future.  One way of getting the lucky couple together was for the head of one family to decide where the alliance was needed and make a deal with the head of the other family.  If your family did not choose your mate for you in a kind of pre-emptive strike on your emotions, then you might actually meet someone on your own.  At that point, all you needed was your family’s approval.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  A good place to meet somebody was a festival.  Festivals were ideal for romance.  Lots of men and woman, different ages, all in the same place at the same time.  At some festivals you were asked to wear a mask -- so your identity would be a secret.  At a festival the best place to meet somebody was at the food table.  Lots of people hanging around, all hungry for, ummm... one thing or another.  Sounds like hot stuff to me.

If your family wasn’t in the festival set, the church was the next best place, and as a fallback position you could always count on the local fountain.  In the days before inside plumbing, young men and women were constantly going off to the water fountain to bring home a bucket’s worth.  But the well also offered you a place to meet someone.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  “Come here for water often?”  We still think of fountains as romantic places where people come to meet.  As a matter of fact, when I think about my old neighborhood where I grew up, there was kind of a pub, a tavern where everybody would go to meet each other, and we always described it as “the local watering hole.”

The Latin word companion literally means “someone with whom we share bread.”  And sharing is what holds people together. It could be two lovers, a family, a group of friends or an entire society.  To share food is often an expression of love.  There are a number of societies where a man and women eating together in public is a clear statement that they are sleeping together in private.  The flip side, of course, is that if a woman stops cooking for her man, or drastically lowers the quality of her cooking, he’s got a real problem.  Same thing when a man cuts down on eating his mate’s cooking or if he starts to cook more and more for himself.  Something is failing.  Though I should point out that I do most of the cooking for my family, so these signals can get flipped around.

For thousands of years, there’s been tradition and ritual around the foods of lovers.  In order to be “sexy,” the meal must be titillating, more about tasting than eating.  We wouldn’t want anyone to think that the food was the main attraction here.  But there are foods that are believed to arouse desire.  Exactly which food depends on where in the world you are dining.  For a long time, the focus was on any animal with a reputation for great sexual activity.  The idea was that the same abilities would be induced in anyone who partook of that animal at a meal. 

Guys would look at salmon.  Finding their way back from the open sea to the river they called home.  Hundreds of miles of swimming against the current.  Hurling themselves up through waterfalls.  And all done in the name of love.  Let’s have some salmon for dinner!  Couldn’t hurt.

There are foods that some people identify as having sexual textures.  Oysters are in that category.  And then there are foods that come into the culture with a well established reputation as a tasty morsel that will by themselves induce thoughts of love.  Chocolate is the leading food in that category.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Chocolate had been around in South America for hundreds of years before the first European had a taste of it.  Legend has it that the lucky guy was the Spanish explorer Cortez, and he got that first taste from the Aztec ruler Montezuma.  Montezuma recommended chocolate as the appropriate beverage for the amorous evening.  And we’ve been repeating that story for 500 years.  Is it true?  Will chocolate affect your love life?  Every couple of years a scientific group announces the result of their studies.  Some say there is absolutely no effect from chocolate, except the positive feeling you get from eating the chocolate itself.  Others say that chocolate can have an enormous effect on your emotions.  You pay your money and you take your choice.  There is, however, one chocolate that does come with a true story of love; it’s called a Baci, which is the Italian word for “kisses.”

In 1907 the Buitoni family was already well-known in Italy as manufacturers of pasta.  To broaden their production, they decided to start making sugared almonds, which were traditionally used in wedding ceremonies.  They set up their confectionery in the Italian city of Perugia, and called it Perugina.  The family’s 22-year-old son Giovanni was sent to run the facility.  Giovanni fell in love with Luisa Spagnoli.  Luisa was a confectioner and developed many of the company’s products.  Luisa invented the Baci in 1922, and used her work samples to send secret messages of love up and back with Giovanni.  To commemorate that correspondence, Perugina wraps a love message into every Baci that they make.  Baci were introduced to North America at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, and promoted by some really big names.  Joe DiMaggio handled public relations on the west coast and Frank Sinatra was their spokesperson in Italy.  Talk about lovers!

And this is the facility in Perugia where the Baci are made.  Ground hazelnuts come down from the top.  The chocolate base comes up from the bottom.  They’re mixed together and formed into a small round disc that is about an inch in diameter.  Then a whole hazelnut gets placed on top.  Each nut is checked to make sure that it is properly placed.  You know, you can’t be too careful when you’re dealing with nuts. 

Next -- The Enrobing.  A curtain of liquid chocolate pours down, completely coating the centers.  For the next ten yards, the Baci pass through a cold tunnel, set at twelve degrees Centigrade.  At the end of the tunnel, the chocolate is firm.  And since love works best in twos, there’s a second coating.  One more cooling and they’re off to the wrapping machines.

Bright colors are also thought to be important at meals for lovers, especially red.  Scientists who study the effects of color believe that red is received as a warm color, something that is near and attracts the viewer.  It’s alive and vibrant.  Red is the color of passion.  We color our hearts red.  We give red roses.  We wear red lipstick and rouge.  And we include red foods in menus for lovers.  A common double threat is the red strawberry dipped in chocolate.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  There are also places that are ideal for romantic rendezvous.  In order to be a good meeting point for lovers, you need a couple of things.  You should be able to sit down, because you never know when somebody is going to be late.  It’s also nice to be able to order a little something to eat or drink.  And it’s very important to be able to look like you are not waiting for somebody when you are actually waiting for somebody.  The cafe is the ideal spot.  It’s like a mini-festival -- you can come in, sit around, and when you’re ready, you can leave.

This is Verona’s Piazza Bre.  It’s one of the largest squares in Italy.  The line of buildings is emphasized by a wide pavement, which is covered with cafes.  The other place in Verona that is like an ongoing festival, always available for people to see and be seen in, is the Piazza Erbe.  It’s almost in the exact same spot as the ancient Roman Forum that stood here 2,000 years ago.  There’s a colorful and active fruit and vegetable market covered with giant umbrellas and surrounded by historically famous buildings.  And, of course, cafes and restaurants.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  A restaurant can also be an excellent place for romance, especially at the beginning of a relationship, when you’re just getting to know each other.  You’re in a public place.  The restaurant staff can see you.  The diners can see you.  You’re almost “under surveillance.”  And that keeps everybody’s behavior in check.  Quite reassuring.  But it can also be used to make things more exciting.  There are lots of rules in our society against touching in public.  So when you lean across the table... and hold hands... you are breaking the rules.  And you are breaking them where everybody can see you!  That’s juicy stuff!

One of the more romantic restaurants in Verona is the All Aquila, at the Hotel Due Torri, which means “The Two Towers.”  The hotel is an elegant structure which was built on the site of a guest house for the lords of Verona since the 1400s.  The furnishings are the work of local craftsmen, some dating all the way back to the Renaissance.  One of the restaurant’s most romantic recipes is for tortellini.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  I thought tortellini only came with sauce -- but it comes with a legend.  It is called “The Noodle of Love.”  “Alla fine del 300, nel corso...”  English.  At the end of the 1200s, there was a captain of the guards named Marco, who lived just outside of Verona.  He fell in love with a nymph who lived in the river.  But the Duke’s niece wanted Marco for herself, and so she forced the nymph back into the river.  Before the nymph left, however, she gave Marco a handkerchief made of silk with a knot tied in it to remember her.  Since then, a silk handkerchief with a knot tied in it has been a symbol of love, and the people around here reproduce that in pasta.  And that’s how tortellini got started.  Now, if that legend is a little implausible for you, try this one:  tortellini is a reproduction of Venus’ belly-button, sent here from the gods.  You choose your story and you eat your pasta!

Chef Agostino Clama starts his recipe by heating a little oil in a saute pan.  As soon as the oil is hot, in goes a cup’s worth of sliced mushrooms and a little salt.  While the mushroooms are cooking, the stems are removed from two tomatoes, after which they are blanched for ten seconds in boiling water.  The boiling water loosens the skins, and then they are peeled.  For me, peeling tomatoes is always an optional process; I kinda like the skins.  The tomatoes are sliced... seeded... chopped... and added to the mushrooms.  A sprinking of dried hot pepper flakes are added.  A touch of salt goes in.  A little more olive oil.  Then a teaspooon of minced parsley.  Four quarts of water are brought to a boil.  A pound of freshly-made cheese tortellini goes in and cooks for about 45 seconds.  Then the tortellini are drained from the water and added to the sauce.  Everything heats for a minute, and the pasta of love is ready to serve.

Tagliatelli in chicken sauce... orecchietti and broccoli... linguini puttanesca... The cooks of Italy are some of the finest pasta makers in the world.  And they have a few simple rules for cooking pasta that are well worth remembering.

First of all, you need at least four quarts of water for every pound of pasta.  If you’re worried about the foam on the water bubbling out of the pot, put a little oil on top.  That will keep the foam down.  As soon as the water comes to a rolling boil, add all of the pasta to the pot at one time.  Whenever you’re cooking long strands of pasta, like spaghetti, as soon as it gets into the pot, press it down and bend it in half so it is fully submerged.  You don’t want to break pasta into pieces. It also helps to keep the individual strands of pasta separate.  Stir the water to separate those strands. 

As soon as the pasta is tender enough so you can bite through the center without hitting a hard spot, it’s ready to eat.  Then quickly drain it away from the water.  As soon as the pasta is drained, add it to the sauce.  One of the techniques that seems to be used by all of the great pasta chefs of Italy is to add the pasta to the sauce while the sauce is still in the cooking pan.  The pasta gets a better coating of the sauce, and all the food stays warmer until the moment of serving.

The next recipe is for something that any Romeo would love:  chocolate biscotti called Juliet’s Kisses.  Eight ounces of semi-sweet chocolate are melted over a pot of simmering water.  While that’s taking place, four ounces of butter go into a bowl, followed by a cup of sugar.  Those ingredients get creamed together unitil they are light and fluffy.  Then one and one third cups of pre-sifted all-purpose flour are added.  A little more mixing, and then in goes the melted chocolate.  Everything is carefully combined...  and then finally -- The Secret Ingredient (or at least the previously Secret Ingredient):  a hard-boiled egg and a hard-boiled egg yolk, which are pressed through a sieve into the batter.  A bit more mixing, and the batter goes into a pastry bag.  Inch-and-a-half rounds are piped onto a baking sheet, and then placed into a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 15 minutes.  When they come out, they are cooled and given a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar.  “Wherefore art thou, Juliet?  Your kisses are ready!”

For thousands of years the land around Verona has been producing wine.  And many of those wines have become quite famous.  Soave, Bardolino, Valpolicella -- all world-famous, and all made in this part of Italy. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  That fame, however, presented an age old problem, a problem that confronts lovers and a problem that confronts winemakers -- and it’s the same problem.  It’s good to be popular.  It’s good to be in demand.  It’s good to be sought after.  But a lover or a winemaker who gives in too much to the demands of popularity can end up with a highly compromised reputation.  And that is precisely what happened here.  The winemakers gave into the demands of popularity and the quality disappeared. 

But things that go down sometimes get an opportunity to come back up.  And that’s actually been the case here in Verona.  Phillip di Belardino is an expert on Italian wine, and has kept track of this renaissance.

PHILLIP DI BELARDINO:  This is one of the most beautiful areas of Italy.  This is, of course, the Soave area, within the Verona district, and this used to be part of the Venetian Republic, which was founded about the time of the Renaissance.  And speaking of renaissance, that word certainly applies to a revolutionary winemaker, Roberto Anselmi.  He looked at his area, Soave, and went back, literally, to the roots of why this area was great at one time.

BURT WOLF:  Nice choice of words, “roots.”

PHILLIP DI BELARDINO:  And what he discovered is, when you imitate something, the way Soave was, it had to be great to begin with.  And what was great about Soave was that it was originally produced on hillsides.  In fact, to separate the new latecomers of Soave, which are produced on flatland, the ones on hillsides are called Soave Classico, and the ones on the flatland are just called plain Soave.  Now, the hillsides are essential for reducing the number of grapes per acre, which therefore makes a much more concentrated wine.

BURT WOLF:  Fewer grapes, better wine.

PHILLIP DI BELARDINO:  Exactly.

BURT WOLF:  Makes sense.

PHILLIP DI BELARDINO:  And the way they could tell where the best vineyards were on the hillsides, were where these -- well, they called them “chapels,” but we would call them overgrown altars.  In fact, the word in Italian for “chapel” is capella.  In fact, if you sang in a chapel, it was --

BOTH (IN UNISON):  --a capella.

PHILLIP DI BELARDINO:  Exactly.  But in local Veronese dialect, it’s capitel, is the word.  And what these altars would serve was a religious function, obviously, because the workers didn’t have cars or horses a hundred and fifty years ago, and would have to walk to the vineyards, which was over an hour.  They would stay here for the entire day, they would have lunch there, and they would also pray.  And the best capitels are Capitel Croce, Capitel Foscarino, and of course Capitel San Vincenzo.  San Vincenzo is Saint Vincent, who is the patron saint of the vinegrowers.

The English poet Edward Fitzgerald said it best -- “A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou” -- traditional ingredients for an affair of the heart.

WOMAN IN FILM CLIP:  Oh Ken, isn’t this heaven?  Nothing’s changed, has it, Ken?

MAN IN FILM CLIP:  Of course not, angel.

WOMAN IN FILM CLIP:  I’m... still a mystery to you?

MAN IN FILM CLIP:  As mysterious as life itself.

WOMAN IN FILM CLIP:  I want it to stay this way forever and ever.

The relationships between wine and food and romance are also about sharing.  And I think the actress Mae West expressed it best when she said, “It’s not what I share, but the way that I share it.”  And I hope you will share some more time with us as we travel around the world, looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Three Glorious Days in Beaune, France - #113

In the middle of France is a district known as Burgundy, and there’s considerable evidence that people have been living here since the Stone Age.   It was a major area for the Celts, and the ancient Romans had a number of strongholds in the region.  During the 400s a group of people came down from the Baltic Sea and took control of the territory.  They were known as Burgundians and that’s the name that has stayed with the neighborhood. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   One of the first people to put Burgundy on the map was a fellow named Charles the Bald.  The idea of putting a descriptive word behind the name of a ruler was a big deal in Burgundy.  Not only did they have Charles the Bald... they had John the Good, Philip the Bold and James the Fearless.  Interesting to think about what our modern leaders might be called if this came back into fashion.  We might have had Ike the Likable, Abe the Honest, and my personal favorite, Richard the Impeachable.  Not very flattering, but at least you had an idea of what you were in for.   And at the time, the people of Burgundy were in for King Louis XI of France, who had it in for the people of Burgundy.  Now, when Charles the Bald was in charge of Burgundy, that was okay.  But when Charles the Bold took over, that was too much for Louis. Charles the Bold was too rich, too famous, too powerful and too good-looking for Louis.  So in the middle of the 1400’s Louis used his military might to force Burgundy to become part of France.  And that’s where it’s been ever since.

The political capital of Burgundy is the city of Dijon, but the gastronomic capital of Burgundy is really a strip of land that runs south from Dijon through the town of Beaune.  For me, Beaune is the real heart of Burgundy.

The food of Burgundy, like the food of most places, is the result of its history and geography.  Burgundy is in the very center of France and there are no important rivers connecting the area to the ocean.  Its major influences come from inside rather than outside.  Throughout its history it’s been primarily an agricultural community.  But for many centuries it was a very wealthy agricultural community.  Basically, the food of Burgundy is farm food raised to the highest levels. 

And then, of course, there are the wines of Burgundy.  Each town along the road from Dijon to just below Beaune is famous for its wine.  The name of the village is right on the label.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The first mention that we have of the great vineyards of Burgundy is in a note that was sent to the Emperor Constantine in the year 312.  The note mentions the fact that the wines of Burgundy are already famous, and then goes on to inform the Emperor that the water drainage system in the neighborhood is a disaster, and he should get it fixed ASAP.  Obviously an outspoken approach to life, as well as a love of great wine has been part of the Burgundian character for quite a while.

The vineyards of Burgundy are owned by over 46,000 different landholders and there are only about 90,000 acres.  In many cases the actual parcel of earth owned by the grower is tiny.  And each owner has his or her own idea of how their grapes should be grown.  In general, the people who grow the grapes don’t make the wine.  But that’s not the case when it comes to the largest owner of the important vineyards -- Bouchard Pere & Fils.  Pere & Fils means father and sons.

This is the Chateau de Beaune.  It was built as part of a fortress during the 1400’s.  During the 1700’s the Bouchard family moved in, and it’s been the center of the business ever since.  Part of any respectable 15th century fortress was a series of underground caves for supplies and troop movements.  Today the caves are used for the aging of some six million bottles of Burgundian wine, including a selection of very rare wines dating back to the 1800’s.

Winemaking, of course, starts in the vineyards, and Bouchard is the largest owner of the highest classifications in Burgundy -- over 230 acres in 25 different areas.  The parcels are separated by rural hamlets, dirt roads, and ancient stone fences.  This is one of my favorite spots in the region.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Behind these iron bars and ancient protective stone gate, lie the extremely valuable chardonnay grapes used by Bouchard to make one of the world’s great wines -- Montrachet.  Le Montrachet was a local lord who lived here during the 1100’s.  He grew his grapes on the land behind me.  The wine that comes from that land still bears his name -- Montrachet.  Right on the label.  Lord Montrachet had a son who went off to the Crusades.  Unfortunately he did not return.  To commemorate his son’s valor, he took a plot of land at the top of the hill and called it “Chevalier- Montrachet.”  Right on the label again.  “Chevalier” roughly translates as “Crusader-Knight Montrachet.”  A few years later, the lord met an extremely attractive young lady, and they got into the habit of spending the afternoons, um, “walking through the fields.” A year or so later she had a son.  That pleased the lord even more.  Across the road he took a plot of land, marked it off, and called it “Batard-Montrachet,” which means “the Bastard of Montrachet.”  Now, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that on television, and if you heard BLEEP Montrachet. I just wanted to mention that batard is a French word meaning “illegitimate child.”

Bouchard is an old family name in Burgundy.  They actually went into the business the year before George Washington was born.  But some of their techniques are very new.  They were the first winemakers in Burgundy to initiate what is called a “green harvest.”  Early in the growing season, they take perfectly good bunches of grapes off the vines in order to concentrate the juices in the remaining grapes.  It intensifies the flavor.  You know, when you’ve been making wine for 260 years... you can take a few risks.

Nicholas Rolin was the Chancellor to the Dukes of Burgundy.  He was one of the most powerful men in Europe during the 1400s.  Nicholas had been widowed twice, when he married Guigone de Salins, a very pious and respectable lady who came from a very wealthy family.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Salin means “salt,” and for hundreds of years her family had owned the most important salt mines in France.  Clearly these were good times for Nicolas and Her Saltiness.  But not for everybody else.  The Hundred Year’s War had just come to an end, and bands of demobilized soldiers were wandering around the countryside destroying everything and everybody they could get their hands on.   A devastating famine had begun.  Ninety percent of the people in Beaune were considered destitute.  But all this presented an interesting opportunity for Nicolas.  He discovered that he could do well by doing good.  You see, Nicholas was concerned  -- concerned that some of the things that he had done on his trip from poor country lawyer to Lord of Burgundy might not look so good on his application for passage through the pearly gates on his way to heaven.  Clearly, this was a time where Nicholas could play... ”Let’s Make A Deal.”

So Nicholas built a great hospital for the needy of Burgundy.  A magnificent place.  A place that has become famous throughout the world.  And that fame was central to Nicholas’s plan.  You see, Nicholas built the Hospices De Beaune with the hope that someone “Upstairs” would notice it and give him a discount on his sins.  This was not an uncommon practice at the time.  “Celestial” favors were a big business and this “arrangement” in no way diminished the magnificence of his charity.

And let me show you just how magnificent that charity was.  They tell me that much of the art created for the Hospices was commissioned by Rolin in order to distract the minds of the patients from their own condition and redirect their thoughts to prayer and requests for God’s forgiveness.  Well, let me tell you... lying in bed in a hospital and looking at the detail of the Last Judgment could certainly do that.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   When the well-to-do were well enough to leave, they would make a generous gift.  Sometimes it was money.  Money was good. Sometimes it was land.  In 1471, for the first time, it was a vineyard.  Wine was thought of as a health-giving liquid, and water something that could kill you.  So the vineyard was a giant step in the right direction.  The Hospices could use the grapes to make wine... give some of it to the patients... and sell the rest of it for money.  And they could do that year after year after year.  The vineyard... a gift that keeps on giving.

Over the centuries many vineyards were donated.  Today the Hospices has holdings on over 50 estates, and they are on some of Burgundy’s best land.  Each year grapes are gathered from these hills and employees of the Hospices make the official Hospices wine.  On the third Sunday in November, the results of these winemaking activities are sold at the world’s largest charity wine auction.  Buyers come from all over the world to bid and many millions of dollars are raised to cover the upkeep of the Hospices.  This is not an auction for the casual buyer.  You must be considered a potentially serious purchaser in order to get into this room.

BURT WOLF:   How do you signal for a bid?

GUIDE (LUC BOUCHARD):  You have to wave your hand.

BURT WOLF:   Just like that?

GUIDE:  Hey!  Be careful!

BURT WOLF:   What did I buy???

GUIDE:   Seven hundred bottles of Pommard!  Just for you.

BURT WOLF:   Seven hundred bottles of Pommard.  Great.  Wonderful.  I love this.

And you never can anticipate who will be bidding against you.

WOMAN WITH BABY:  This little boy is two months old, and he’s just the youngest bidder for today’s wines.

BURT WOLF:   Did he buy, or did he just bid?

WOMAN WITH BABY:  He bought.

BURT WOLF:   Ah-hah.  It’ll be a while before he drinks it, though.

WOMAN WITH BABY:  Hopefully eighteen years.  [laughs]

Throughout this weekend, Beaune not only celebrates its great wine, but also its excellent food.  The hotels and restaurants are packed.  Some of the most sought-after tables are to be found at the Hostellerie de Levernois, which sits in its own ten-acre park, filled with fields, woods and brooks.  The hotel itself is quite elegant...and the cooking has earned it two stars from the Michelin Guide.  The kitchen is under the direction of Christophe Crotet, who’s going to prepare as traditional a dish from Burgundy as you can get -- Boeuf Bourgignon.

Christophe starts by cutting an onion into small pieces.  Next he cuts a carrot into small cubes and chops a clove of garlic.  Those ingredients are going to be used in the sauce.  The meat is a three-pound piece of lean beef that has been sliced into two-inch cubes.  Next a cup’s worth of bacon, cut into small cubes, goes into a saucepan, gets covered with water, blanched for five minutes, and  drained.  Now the cooking really gets started.  Two tablespoons of oil go into a pan, followed by a quarter cup of the onion, a quarter cup of the carrot, and a  few sprigs of thyme.  The ingredients are cooked for a few minutes. 

The beef gets sauteed in a second pan.  It’s important to brown the beef well on all sides.  Christophe points out that the browning is essential in order to give the dish its proper color.  When the meat is brown it gets combined with the vegetables.  Two tablespoons of flour are added and stirred into the moisture around the beef.  The flour needs to be cooked for about five minutes.  The cooking will remove the flour’s starchy taste.  At that point two cups of red wine are added to the pan.  It’s brought to the boil, then simmered for two minutes.  A round of parchment paper is used to cover the pan and it’s into a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for one and a half hours. 

BURT WOLF:   When I saw Christophe put the paper on top of the sauce, I knew it was there to hold the moisture in while the pot was in the oven.  But I’d never seen anybody do that with paper.  So I asked him why, and he had a wonderful reason -- he said that was his favorite pot, but he didn’t have a cover for it.

While the beef is cooking another saute pan arrives and in goes two tablespoons of oil, followed by the blanched bacon.  Then  six shallots that have been cut in half.  The bacon and the shallots cook together for about five minutes.  A half cup of sliced mushrooms are added and browned for two minutes.  A few flips to impress the television crew.  Then in goes a cup of red wine which is then boiled down until it’s almost entirely evaporated.   When the pan with the beef comes out of the oven, the bacon and mushrooms are added, followed by ten more minutes of cooking. That’s it.  When it’s time to serve, noodles go onto the plate, then a few pieces of the beef, the sauce and a little minced fresh parsley.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Italy was the original home for the order of the Benedictine monks.  But their greatest monastery was here in France, at Cluny.  The Benedictines had become rich and famous and powerful and luxury-loving.  But some of the Benedictines thought that the good life was a bad thing.  So they left to form their own monastery.  Eventually the head of their sect became known as Saint Bernard.

Their first abbey was built on a marsh where only reeds could grow.  The French word for “reed” is cistels, so the monks ended up being called Cistercians.   The Cistercians withdrew into the solitude of the countryside.  They renounced worldly pleasures... with one possible exception.  They made great wine.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   In all fairness, the rules of St. Benedict allowed a little bit of wine to each monk every day.  It was important to their religious services.  But they got into the idea of making great wine because they wanted to sell their surplus for money.  Worked very well for everybody.  The monks got to drink better wine, their pursuit of excellence showed their love of God, and they certainly turned a bigger buck.  Eventually the Cistercians ended up with a huge international business dealing in very fine wines.  It was all quite heavenly -- and it should have been.  The Cistercians certainly had friends in high places.

In the year 1150 a man named Walo Gilles donated this land to the Cistercians in exchange for a letter of recommendation that he could use to obtain... um, shall we say... “better accommodations in the after-life.”  Today it is known as the Clos de Vougeot and you can still see what the wine business looked like about a thousand years ago.  There are about a half million vines that will produce enough wine to fill about 300,000 bottles.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The action really got started here in the courtyard.  Carts would come in with the grapes.  The grapes would be transferred to big tanks.  The pressure of one grape on top of the other forced out the free-running juice. Then the grapes were transferred to enormous presses where the rest of the juices were forced out.  Each of the presses had a name.  My favorite is Tetu, “the Stubborn.”  Seven hundred years old and still working.   When the grapes came in, they went into these giant rectangular presses.  The press bar would come down and force out the juice.  The power for the bar came by turning the screw at the end.   The power for the screw came from the monks.  These huge barrels were used to ferment the grape juice into wine.  The Cistercians did everything they could to make the best wine possible, and they knew that a happy monk was a happy winemaker.  So they laid out the area as efficiently as possible. Everything took place on one level.  No wasted energy running up and down stairs for these monks.

The one-level plan was a good idea from the operations viewpoint, but it also made sense in terms of construction.  The land here is made up of very hard limestone. Digging a wine cellar would have been a murderous job. They also covered all the walkways to protect the monks from the bad weather.  They dug a great well and set up an ingenious system for getting the most water up for the least effort.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   These days, Clos Vougeot is home to an organization called Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.  Which loosely translates as... “The Bunch That Likes To Drink Good Wine.” And in this case the wine they like to drink comes from Burgundy. The organization was put together in 1934 to promote the wine and the culture of the region.  Each November, during the third weekend, about 600 of ‘em get together in the old wine storage area to celebrate the introduction of new members.

Considering the number of people that are being served here, and all at the same time, the food at this banquet is quite excellent... and of course, each course is accompanied by an appropriate wine of the region.

This evening is a big deal.  How big?  Well, Catherine Deneuve will be sitting at the head of the table!  And then the ultimate guest of honor arrives.

This is also the time for the induction of new members.  The horn players face away from the audience, partly because they want the bell of the horn to face out, but also because they’re shy and they don’t get much time to practice, and they’d prefer not to be recognized.  After all, this is a voluntary group.   Each year about half a dozen people who have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of the wines of Burgundy are inducted into the organization. 

And the next morning, as dawn spread out her rosé-tipped fingers, there was much rejoicing throughout the land.

PARADE

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Well, the people of Beaune are certainly having a barrel of fun, but there are some pressing issues that have not been resolved.  Did Nicholas Rolin actually get pre-boarded on his trip to heaven as a result of his good works?  If I buy wine at the auction at the Hospices de Beaune, is there at least a possibility that I will receive “celestial favors”?  No one can answer these questions.  So for the time being, everyone here will continue pressing their grapes, and I will continue pressing my investigation into the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I hope you’ll join me.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Thanksgiving in Colonial Williamsburg - #112

For well over one hundred years, starting in the 1600s, Virginia was England’s largest and most important colony in North America.  By the beginning of the 1700s, Virginia had outgrown its old capital in Jamestown, and built itself a new one. It was called Williamsburg, in honor of William, king of England.  This is the Capitol Building. It is the place where the colonial government of Virginia held its sessions.  Many of the ideas and plans that led to the creation of the United States of America were developed here. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   In May of 1776 the Virginia delegates met here in Williamsburg and began taking steps toward a union of all the colonies.  There activities led directly to the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July, and then to the Revolutionary War.  When the war was over, the people of the newly-forming United States of America decided to hold a victory celebration.  General George Washington set it for Thursday, the twenty-sixth of November 1789. And that turned out to be our first official American national Thanksgiving Day.

The most famous Thanksgiving in the U.S., however, is the one that was offered by the Pilgrims who survived the voyage of the Mayflower from England. In the middle of October their governor declared a Thanksgiving Day to be held at the beginning of December. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Thanksgiving in America is the subject of this report, and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia is where we’ve come to take a look at some of the history and folklore around it.  As so often happens with the legends of how a nation came to be, the narrators have taken a few liberties with the facts.  The Pilgrim dinner with the Native American tribes in the Massachusetts colony took place in October, and it was basically a harvest festival.  The actual Thanksgiving Day took place months later and had to do with many other subjects besides the harvest.  Our present-day Thanksgiving seems to be a combination of those two events.  Very efficient to combine them; we save time and money and it certainly makes it a lot easier for a reporter to tell the story, but it doesn’t do a lot for historical accuracy.

The story of Williamsburg, on the other hand, is as accurate and detailed an account of history as we are able to produce.  The plan for the city probably came from the man who was governor at the time.   His name was Francis Nicholson.  Cities were expected to be centers for learning, religion and government.  And that was the plan for Williamsburg.  One side of town was devoted to William and Mary College, which was chartered in 1693.  The other side of town was given over to the Capitol.  In the middle of Williamsburg stands the Bruton Parish Church. During the colonial period, church and state were not separated -- and what the clergy had to say was of enormous political importance.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   As soon as they started to build the city, however, things began to change.  A city was still thought of as a center for learning, religion and government, but now it was also expected to be a center for retailing and manufacturing.     Just as Williamsburg was becoming a thriving community, the idea of mass consumerism was taking hold.  Serious shopping had come to America.

MILLINER:  Welcome to the Millinery, and congratulations on your good taste.  We’re pleased to have you here this morning.  And here we have the latest in dress for the streets of London, May 13, 1774.

SILVERSMITH:  I’m making what is called a Monteith, which is a silver punchbowl and wine-cooling bowl, or glass-cooling, you might say.  The rim here up top would be used to hang the glasses over, into ice water that would be in the punchbowl itself.  Once the glasses were cool, one could then remove the rim, and then this becomes the punchbowl to put your fruit punch in to serve to your guests in nice, cool, chilled glasses.

SHOPKEEPER:  Well, I’d like to welcome you to the John Greenhow Store; Mr. Greenhow was a merchant here in the 18th Century, and of course merchants here would be carrying all your goods; most would be imported from London or England at this time, though this was a world economy.  They had things from China, Africa, India and all over the world.  If you look over here, we have different “confectioneries,” as they called them in the 18th and 19th Centuries; they weren’t called “candies.”  A lot of times, dried goods like apricots and apples, sometimes sugar was added as a preservatent  [sic], just like you’d use salt or smoke something.

MILLINER:  And for the gentleman -- well!  May we suggest a pair of stockings which would show a gentleman’s best feature -- a good-looking lower leg.

TINKER:  Sound is very important while I’m doing this.  I’m listening for the thickness of the metal here.  So as I’m tapping, I’m pushing down the high spots and bringing up the low spots to make this very, very smooth.

COLONIAL COOK:  Well, we’ve done several different things to give you an idea as to the variety of things that would have gone on the table for the dinner meal; this could be the whole meal or just a small portion of the meal.  We always want to offer our guests variety.  Your Virginia ham, that salt-cured and smoked piece of meat, a standing dish in a Virginia household, something that you’re going to see every day at all three of your meals, breakfast, dinner and supper.  A lemon pudding, which is a side dish for dinner, whereas today in the 20th Century, we might have it for dessert.

BOOKBINDER:  These books were made to last.  Everything that will go into the making of this book will be around three or four hundred years.  We’re using calfskin; we’re using rag paper.  In the 18th Century, people saved their old linens for the making of paper, and rag paper will last five hundred, close to a thousand years.  So it’ll be around for a long time.  And of course it’s all held together with the flax cords and linen thread, and that’s done until you have completed your book.

BURT WOLF:   Why did people wear wigs?

WIGMAKER:  Why, ‘tis the fashion, sir, for gentlemen here to favor that of wearing the wigs.  For when the king wears a wig, sir, by God, we all shall.  If you’d care to take a seat here, sir.

BURT WOLF:   Ah, thank you.  You see, my present wig is thinning out here, so I thought --

WIGMAKER:  ‘Tis acrylic hair, I think, sir --

BURT WOLF:   Acrylic!  Yes, that’s one of its problems, of course...

WIGMAKER:  Well, I have a fine wig here, sir, for you --

BURT WOLF:   Oh, good --

WIGMAKER:  ‘Tis yak hair that it is made from.

BURT WOLF:   Yak!  What an improvement that would be over acrylic.

WIGMAKER:  I would say, sir, very much so.

BURT WOLF:   And it is my natural color!

WIGMAKER:  It is you, sir -- and the curls!  I would say they fit you to a “T.”

BURT WOLF:   You couldn’t ask for a better fit.

MILLINER:  What we have here is a pair of false hips, designed to make the body look larger in one area so as to accentuate the very tiny waist, and will control the upper torso with a pair of stays, making the lady’s figure into a cone.

By mid-morning the inhabitants of Williamsburg had done most of their marketing.  The stands would come down and folks would head off to the tavern for a break. The tavern was a place to relax, eat, drink and most important, hear the latest gossip.

GENTLEMAN # 1:  I discover here in the Gazette that these Massachusetts malcontents have destroyed public property when they threw the tea into Boston Harbor.

GENTLEMAN # 2:  I would not be so bold as to make such a sweeping statement, sir; they are merely patriots making a statement before the King and Parliament, sir, and that’s all.

GENTLEMAN # 1:  The King is asking for only three pennies a pound, sir -- three pennies a pound!  Now, come -- I could work for a few days and make enough money to buy two or three hundred pounds of tea and it would not affect me -- and I don’t even like tea!

GENTLEMAN # 2:  Oh, it’s the principle of the thing, sir; it may lead to some very good effect.  It may cause the ears of the King and Parliament to perk up, for once.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   All of this importing and manufacturing and shopping and cooking and eating and drinking was what the brave new world of consumerism was all about.  You see, the colonists had gotten their hands on lots of stuff.  And they liked it. As a matter of fact, they fought a war of independence because they thought the English king was trying to take too big a cut of their stuff.   And when George Washington declared our first national Thanksgiving Day, one of the things that people were giving thanks for was all of their stuff.  They may have gone into churches and offered prayers of thanks, but this was not a religious holiday.  It was worldly, nonspiritual and very political.

The next major event in the history of America’s Thanksgiving Day took place during the War Between The States.  The Civil War persuaded Abraham Lincoln that a Thanksgiving Day could be very useful. The primary objective of the celebration was to encourage a sense of unity in the nation.  He proclaimed the last Thursday of November 1863 as a day of national prayer.  Americans have been celebrating Thanksgiving Day every year since then.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   If it is at all possible, Americans go home for Thanksgiving.  We’ve tried to turn Thanksgiving into a four day weekend and as the dates approach, tens of millions of Americans end up in planes, trains, cars and buses, heading for a family environment.  Some of us, however, are working on a more limited budget, and end up with less advanced technology.

Today the Historic Area of Williamsburg is called the World’s Largest Living Museum, as well as an actual hometown for hundreds of people who live and work here.  The work is carried on by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which is a non-profit educational institution.  Each year over three million people visit Colonial Williamsburg. 

When you visit Williamsburg you can stay in one of the old colonial structures and feel a little like George Washington.  They’re comfortable and interesting.  But among the many places, I chose the Williamsburg Inn.  The Inn was built to feel like a luxurious estate in the Virginia countryside.   The Executive Chef is Hans Schadler and he and his associates are preparing our Thanksgiving meal.   Hans starts the cooking with the mushroom and wild rice soup.

Three ounces of smoked bacon are cooked, then removed to drain.  In the same pan... a half cup each of sliced leeks, diced carrots, and diced celery. Then five minutes of cooking.  Two cups of sliced red onions are added and cook for about five minutes more.  At that point two cups of mushrooms go in.  Hans is using a mixture of fresh white mushrooms, crimini mushrooms, portabellas, enoki, oyster and shiitake.  If, however, your market doesn’t carry a full selection of mushrooms you can use all fresh white mushrooms and the dish will be fine.  Next, two ounces of dry sherry... and twelve cups of chicken stock. 

HANS SCHADLER:  And I’ve prepared a little sachet bag here; we have some parsley stems in here, some thyme, peppercorn, and some bay leaf.  And that is... we’re gonna drop that into the soup to add some additional flavor to it. ... Sachet bag... so perch that here for a minute.

Fifteen minutes of simmering.  A cup and a half cup of pre-cooked wild rice.  The bacon returns. A little heat and it’s ready to serve.

The six most popular mushrooms produced in the United States are in the white mushroom family.  They’re great general all-purpose mushrooms, used in salads, sauces, in vegetable dishes, even on pizza.  The Crimini mushroom is related to the white mushroom, but a little darker, with a denser texture and earthier flavor. It’s used like the white mushroom.  The Portabella mushroom has a large cap and a meaty rich flavor.  They are often sautéed or grilled and served as a dish by themselves, or in stir-fried recipes.  The Enoki has tiny button caps and long thin stems.  They grow in clusters and are used raw in salads or as a garnish.  The oyster mushroom has a fluted shell shape. It’s a good all-purpose mushroom with a very interesting texture.   And finally, the Shiitake, which are best when cooked, either on their own or as an ingredient in, say, a pasta sauce or an Asian dish.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   When you’re picking out mushrooms in the market, you want to look for ones that are generally smooth and unblemished, firm cap, and never moist and slick.  On a freshly picked mushroom, the cap grows around, covers the membranes inside, and touches the stem.  If you get a mushroom and you can see the membranes inside, all that means is that it’s begun to dry out.  From an aesthetic point of view, maybe not as pleasing, but that drying out concentrates the flavor -- so they’re actually more interesting to cook with.

Mushrooms don’t store well, so you should use them as soon after you buy them as possible, and keep them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to start cooking.  The best way to clean a mushroom is with a moist cloth or a very fast wash in a colander.  Mushrooms are highly porous and can absorb lots of water, which is not good for their taste or texture.  So you want to clean them quickly.  And now they’re ready to go.

Next up is the turkey.

HANS SCHADLER:   And what we’re doing with the turkey here is we’re stuffing the skin; under the skin we’re infusing a little bit of herb butter.  Put the herb butter simply in a piping bag... try to lift the skin with the tip of your finger, just go all the way through.  Eventually you can slide your entire hand underneath there.  And then just simply pipe herb butter in here by moving it back with your hand.  You can stay right here and just pipe, and just push your butter right all the way down here.

BURT WOLF:   What are the herbs?

HANS SCHADLER:  Herbs, we have some fresh thyme, some oregano, some sage -- typical Thanksgiving.  So we’ve infused that in here with some fresh butter.  It’s almost like giving the turkey his final massage here before he goes in the oven.  What we’re gonna do next is we’re gonna moisten the skin with a little vegetable oil or olive oil, and then just start rubbing the skin nicely with herbs, all over the turkey.  So it’s nicely distributed all the way through the skin.  Okay?  Okay.  Now we’re gonna shape the bird before we put it in the oven; by doing so, we’re just gonna tie  -- push the drumsticks and thighs back...bring the string back underneath here, and that’s really basically to give the bird a little bit of its shape and make the breasts look very plump.  If you could hold your finger there, Burt, and I’m gonna see that I can tie it right in there.  You’re stuck forever to the turkey here.  Okay, there we go.

BURT WOLF:   What would Hans do without me?

HANS SCHADLER:  All right!  All right here, look at this beauty there.  And in it goes.  Bye-bye turkey.  Okay.  Okay, we’re gonna do the peach glaze.  Peach puree --

BURT WOLF:   It’s just a puree of peaches?

HANS SCHADLER:  Just a peach puree, and then we have some peach preserves.  If you can’t get any fresh peaches, this is, you know, a peach preserve made out of fresh peaches; simply get some canned peaches, strain them very well. put ‘em in a food processor, puree them very fine.  You can add a little liqueur to it; I’m gonna prefer to add a little honey to this here now.  Honey and a touch of maple syrup, and that caramelizes the turkey very nicely and adds a little flavor.  For the spices, I’ve put some chili pepper seeds in here and some fresh minced ginger.  And then we’ll just cook that very nicely,  reduce it a little bit. ... All right, we’re gonna get the turkey!  Let’s see how our bird looks here.  Beautiful!  What happens is, the glaze is going to incorporate to the little juices here and set the stage for the final sauce afterwards.  Put the bird back into the oven and we’re probably gonna glaze it a couple more times before it’s finished.

BURT WOLF:   That’s beautiful!

And right behind the turkey, we’re going to make a great stove-top dressing.  Hans starts by melting eight ounces of butter in a large sauté pan. Then in goes one cup of diced onion, and one cup of diced celery.  Next:  two cups’ worth of breakfast sausage meat that has been pre-cooked.  A green apple that has been peeled, cored and diced, followed by a cup of dried minced fruit.  A little stirring.  Two cups of bread croutons, and six cups’ worth of cornbread that has been crumbled up into small pieces. To moisten things up... three cups’ worth of warm chicken stock... and two cups of warm milk.  Then four whole eggs that have been lightly beaten.  A bit of mixing.  A little sage, thyme, rosemary, cayenne pepper, and oregano.  A little more stirring.  Then into a heat-proof pan and a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 40 minutes.  And that’s your stove-top dressing.

DINNER HOST:  I want to welcome everyone to this Thanksgiving dinner...           

Sociologists say that one of the things being celebrated at Thanksgiving is the wholeness of the family, even if the family is actually no longer whole.  Thanksgiving is often used to celebrate what links are left.  Some people are expected to attend more than one Thanksgiving dinner, or parts of different dinners.  They may have eaten the main meal with one part of their family and gone someplace else for the dessert.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Traditionally the Thanksgiving meal was hosted by the grandparents, but these days there’s a tendency to have a middle-aged couple do the host work, and invite people who are both older and younger, and as soon as I get to be middle-aged I’ll take over that responsibility.  The objective of the Thanksgiving dinner is the bring the family together and to look at that relationship, to show that they are still a unit.  They’ll often look through family albums, tell stories about the pictures.  Very often they’ll tell stories about previous Thanksgivings and disasters or near-disasters that took place in the kitchen.  The is to say that even though the family has had difficult times in the past, everybody’s been forgiven, everybody is still together, and the whole thing is taking place with a sense of good humor.

When families immigrate to the United States they often hold on to the food patterns of their native country.  They also tend to continue celebrating their traditional holidays.  The one American event that gets incorporated into the holiday cycle of just about every new arrival is Thanksgiving.  And they take it on with all the traditional foods... turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, cranberries. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The Native American tribes, who lived in North America for tens of thousands of years before the European colonists showed up, had harvest festivals of their own, so they had a pretty good idea of what was going on when they did a little partying with the Pilgrims.  An eyewitness account of that party, however, does not make any mention whatsoever of turkey or cranberries or pumpkin pies or Jell-O molds.  It does, however, tell of an exercise or sports period that took place, and that may be the historic basis for the fact that part of every Thanksgiving Day is spent watching a football game.

Traditionally people prefer to eat special foods at an annual feast and taste those foods only in connection with that particular event.  The foods become part of what makes the festival distinctive, and the dishes of Thanksgiving are no exception.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   When I was even more of a child than I am now, cranberries were served almost exclusively at Thanksgiving.  Some people actually bought fresh cranberries and made them into cranberry relish, but most people bought cranberry jelly in a can.

Giving a food a distinctive shape, and serving it only in connection with a particular celebration is an old technique for marking a food as unique to a specific festival. 

Thanksgiving is a time for stuffing.  And I don’t mean just the guests.  Stuffing a food has always been an important part of festival recipes.  It’s a way to make a dish “fancy” without necessarily making it expensive.  The work that goes into the stuffing, either the turkey or the pies, is clearly visible to everyone at the table.  Stuffed is a bigger deal than unstuffed because it not only shows more work, adds more food, and extends the number of flavors... it also sends a very clear message that life is plump, full and rich. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Sociologists point out that at any feast or festival, we try to do two things:  we try to show that we are all together, and in some way similar, and at the same time that we are all individuals and different.  And the turkey and the stuffing does that job at Thanksgiving.  The turkey represents a universal container.  We all have the turkey; we’re all similar in that way.  But what goes into the turkey, the stuffing, is very different for each family.  It shows our history, and in some cases our wealth, but it is Our Family Recipe.  So you’re looking at a plate that shows universality in the turkey, but very specific family trait in the stuffing.

Some historians believe that the traditional Thanksgiving sweet potato recipe was designed to be a symbol of unification.  A historically Southern vegetable, the sweet potato, was candied with maple syrup, historically a Northern ingredient.  It’s an interesting idea.  Especially if you recall that the first declaration of an annual Thanksgiving Day was made by President Lincoln, with a prayer for ending the War Between The North and The South.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): The idea of a specific day on which an entire society offered thanks goes back in European history for thousands of years.  The King would declare a holiday and everyone was expected to offer prayers of thanks.  The “thanks” could be for a victory in battle, the end of a plague, someone in the Royal Family recovering from serious illness.  But it was always a “one time” event.  It happened on that day, and that was it.  The United States of America, however, changed all that.  We declared a national Thanksgiving Day, and we decided to have it year after year after year.  It is the most American of our holidays.  And, quite frankly, its wish that all the members of our society coexist peacefully is a more valid wish today than ever before.   For more of our series on gatherings, please join us next time as we travel around the world looking at the celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Meeting for Coffee in Europe and America - #111

Most of our gatherings and celebrations have their origins in things that go on in the heavens:  annual occurrences that alter our natural surroundings.  Often these cosmic events are coupled with a religious occasion -- Christmas, near the shortest day of the year... Easter, near the spring equinox.  Sometimes they are marked with the celebration of a specific activity -- Thanksgiving, and the completion of the fall harvest.  In almost every case, there are precise dates for the gathering and explicit foods and drinks that have become associated with the occasion.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The gatherings came first; the particular foods and drinks associated with them came afterwards.  There is, however, one very famous exception:  coffee. The drink came first; its association with a type of gathering came afterwards.

The most famous story about the discovery of coffee takes place in Ethiopia.  It tells of a goatherder who noticed that after eating the berries of a certain bush, his goats became happy and excited.  The berries had the same effect on him.  (Those are actually sheep, not goats, but the goats had too much of a caffeine buzz and we couldn’t work with them.)

A local monk joined in the experiment and found himself in the same elated state. The berries became a regular part of the diet at the local monastery and were considered almost as a gift from heaven because they helped keep the brothers awake during their evening prayers.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The word “coffee” comes from an Arabic phrase for wine.  Islamic law forbids the use of wine, so in many ways coffee has taken its place. Coffee started growing in Ethiopia, and Arab doctors have been using it as a form of medicine since the fifth century.  The first cash crop came out of Yemen in the 1400s.  Islamic pilgrims passing through Mecca heard about it and spread the word throughout the Arab world.   Eventually a coffee house became a basic part of every Islamic community.

A Dutch traveler described a typical Middle Eastern coffee house as follows: “Coffee houses are commonly large halls, with floors that are covered with straw mats. At night they are illuminated by many lamps.  The customers are served with smoking pipes and cups of coffee.  Scholars sit in these establishments and tell tales, deliver speeches on various subjects and receive small contributions from the audience for their efforts.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant and what it appears to have stimulated in these ancient Arab coffee houses was an interest in original ideas.  People began to talk about politics, about freedom, about -- social change!  Well!   The ruling class couldn’t tolerate that, and in 1656, The Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire outlawed the coffee house.  The idea that a coffee house was a gathering place for revolutionary ideas that had to be supressed, a place of social unrest, stayed with it for hundreds of years.

In 1674 a document titled A Woman’s Petition Against Coffee was published in London.  It claimed that coffee houses kept men from their homes and made them sexually impotent.  In the following year King Charles of England tried to close the coffee houses with a proclamation.  Not a chance. There was such an outcry from the public that within eleven days the proclamation was withdrawn.  Coffee and free speech had been protected.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In England, the coffee house was not only the place to introduce new political ideas, it was the ideal spot to present new business ideas. The first stock exchange in England got started in a coffee house, as did one of the world’s most famous insurance companies, Lloyds of London. People who were interested in a particular type of business would gather in a specific coffee house and the industry would grow up around them. By the middle of the 1700s there were tens of thousands of coffee houses in the great cities of Europe.  This unusual association between coffee drinking and gatherings that stimulated original thoughts continued for many years.  As a matter of fact, many of the meetings held by the people who started the French Revolution took place in coffee houses -- and that was equally true for the American Revolution.

The English brought coffee to the American colonies, but it was rather expensive in comparison to tea, which is the reason the early settlers were drinking tea.  And why King George’s tax on tea led the patriots to toss his tea into the Boston harbor, rather than pay the tax. The Boston Tea Party, as it has come to be known, was more about money than politics, and had nothing to do with gastronomy.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  When we take a look at the history of how people really eat and drink, it becomes apparent that politics plays a very small role.  What usually drives our food selection is price.  Drinking coffee in the United States is a perfect example.  We started out as an English colony, drinking tea.  When the Revolutionary War came along, the English, who had been supplying the tea, raised the price and cut off the supply.  We went to drinking coffee.  But as soon as the Revolutionary War was over, we went right back to drinking tea, supplied to us by our old enemies.  We did that until the War of 1812 -- fighting with the English again.  Tea supply was cut off, price went up, we went to drinking coffee.  Only this time, instead of getting our coffee from Africa or Asia at a high price, it was coming up from Latin America.  The price was low and the quality was high.  We never went back to drinking tea.

And that’s how the United States of America became a nation of coffee drinkers... over half a billion cups a day.   Throughout most of America’s coffee-drinking history it was just a cup of Mocha or Java -- slang names for coffee that are also the names of two of the earliest places in the world from which coffee was exported to Europe and the Americas.  But since the 1950’s there has been a growing interest in more sophisticated coffee and of better quality.  Espresso and cappuccino have swept over North America like a dark and foamy wave... a wave that came off the shores of Italy.

Francesco Illy was one of the founding fathers of espresso.  In 1933 he founded the Illy Caffe company of Italy.  In 1935 he built and patented an apparatus which is considered to be the forerunner of most modern espresso machines.  Today the company is run by his son, Ernesto Illy, who is chemist by training but appears to have applied all of his skills to the technology involved in making a better cup of espresso.  And so has his family.  His wife Anna is involved in the business... his son Francesco is a creative director in charge of the corporate image... is daughter Anna is the purchasing manager... his son Andrea is the managing director... and his son Riccardo is a vice-president.  Riccardo, however, has been put out on loan for a few years to be the Mayor of Trieste -- a city of which he is very proud.

RICCARDO ILLY:  We have many richnesses, on the natural point of view, and on the cultural one.  For the natural, we have the sea, with very clean water, we have hundreds of kilometers of coast, and we are right in the middle.  The houses, all the architecture -- the old part of the city, which has been built by the Austro-Hungarians.  So the Austro-Hungarian style here is very well presented in the city.  So you really can spend some days looking around the city and visiting all these cultural richnesses.

This is the Illy roasting facility in Trieste.  The process begins with the arrival of sample coffee beans.  The Illys prefer nine different varieties of bean, which come most often from Ethiopia, Kenya, Colombia and Brazil.  These areas are considered to produce coffee which is ideal for espresso.

The samples are brought into the lab for evaluation.  Espresso is made and discussed.  Now, usually a tasting area is a small booth where people sit all alone, taste their sample, and write down their reaction.  Not so at Illy.  Tasting is a family gathering where everybody expresses their opinion loudly and clearly.  The whole thing is very Italian.

The particular beans that are approved are then brought into the plant.  It’s virtually impossible to eliminate all of the defective beans that arrive at a roasting plant from the growing fields, so the job must be undertaken at the roasting company.  The most accurate and sophisticated technology for doing the job is based on photoelectric cells that use a set of color codes to spot a bean that is not up to standard.  If the bean is the wrong color it’s taken out of the stream, and at a rate that no human eye or hand could match.  This machine sorts four hundred beans per second; it’s an expensive process, but it’s important.  A single bad bean can affect the taste of hundreds of other beans.  It takes fifty beans to make a single cup of espresso.

Once the beans are sorted, it’s time to start the blending.  There are three major characteristics that must be balanced in order to have a great cup of espresso:  the taste, the aroma, and the body of the liquid.  It’s almost impossible to get this balance with only one shipment of coffee, and that’s where the nine varieties and the blender come in.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  When you put a brand name on a coffee, or any other food product for that matter, people expect it to taste the same.  That’s the whole idea behind a brand -- consistency.  Unfortunately, the things that go into making up that brand are constantly changing; crops vary from year to year.  But people don’t want to know about that -- they want the taste of the brand to remain the same.  And that’s where the blenders come in.  They taste every batch of beans that come in from the growing countries, and constantly re-adjust the formula for the brand, so in the end you have the same taste, the same aroma, and the same body.

The most important stage in the production of coffee is the roasting.  It’s done in huge rotating cylinders.  The temperature inside goes up slowly.  The beans begin to give up their moisture.  They also begin to get bigger.  The cell walls, however, can only take so much pressure before they explode.  So there’s a delicate process going on.  The bean must be roasted but not blown up.  When the beans are properly roasted they must be cooled.  There are two different ways of cooling it.  Water is the fastest, but it reduces the quality of the product.  Streams of cool air are the preferred method for top-quality coffee.

You can buy your espresso coffee in the form of ground coffee or as a whole bean.  Dr. Illy feels that if the coffee is held under pressure, you can buy it in the ground form and it will be perfect.  If it’s not under pressure, you’re better off buying the whole bean and grinding it yourself.  Just make sure you grind it into a powder.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  At last we’re ready to make a cup of espresso.  The ever-precise Dr. Illy recommends seven grams of perfectly-roasted Arabica coffee.  Each grain is to be no smaller than one micron, but no larger than one millimeter.  Thirty cc’s of water at ninety degrees Centigrade pass through the grinds at nine atmospheres of pressure, and the passage takes twenty-five seconds.  But of course, you already knew that.  And now I’ve embarrased myself by stating the obvious...

Illy is clearly dedicated to what goes into a cup of espresso, but they have also become interested in the cup itself.  Since 1992 they have been commissioning artists to design espresso cups, and offering them in limited editions.

DR. ERNESTO ILLY:  And this idea has been making people really falling in love with our aesthetical focusing.  We focus on aesthetics -- in the container and in the contents.  A little caffe, a lot of flavor, a lot of taste, a beautiful cup -- this is the pleasure of the aesthetical enjoyment.

 And along with the espresso, how about some Tiramisu?  Tiramisu is the name of an Italian dessert that has become extremely popular in North America.  Tiramisu translates into English as "lift me up," and from an emotional point of view a few bites of this might just do that.  The chef is Andrea Gibson of Toronto.

Andrea starts the preparation by taking four egg yolks and two whole eggs and whisking them together while adding six tablespoons of sugar and one cup of Marsala, which is a sweet fortified wine, like a port or a sherry.  The bowl goes over a pot of simmering water and you heat and whisk the mixture for five minutes.  Then it goes into the bowl of an electric mixer, where it is beaten at a medium speed until it comes down to room temperature.  That takes about ten minutes.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The next ingredient is a pound of mascarpone cheese, which is a smooth, creamy Italian cheese.  If for some reason you can’t get mascarpone, an okay substitute is one cup of heavy cream blended together with a half pound of ricotta. Or just ricotta cheese that you’ve blended into a nice, smooth texture in a food processor.

When the egg and marsala mixture is cool, half of it gets blended into the mascarpone.  Then the other half.  Two cups of heavy cream are whisked until stiff, then folded into the mascarpone mixture.  The Italian version of a ladyfinger is called a Savoiardi; it’s dipped into a mixture of espresso coffee and brandy and then placed into the bottom of a deep serving bowl.  Andrea is using one that holds four quarts.  The coffee mixture is actually three parts espresso coffee and one part brandy.  When you have a flat layer, the mascarpone mixture goes on for the next layer.  Then a dusting of cocoa, a little cinnamon, another layer of moistened ladyfingers, more mascarpone.  Cocoa.  Cinnamon.  Ladyfingers.  And on and on until the bowl is full.  Using a see-through presentation bowl gives the dish a dramatic look.  The final touch is a decoration of whipped cream, cocoa, and chocolate shavings.  Then into the refrigerator until serving time.  It’ll even hold well overnight.

ANDREA GIBSON:  There is definitely a trend toward more “comfort desserts,” because people don’t feel special out there right now; it’s really tough.  And if you’re made to feel special by a special dessert or a place that treats you well, that’s good.

Monique Barbeau, of the famous coffee town of Seattle, is making our next dessert.  It’s a Lemon Curd Tart.  She starts by breaking seven eggs into a large mixing bowl.

MONIQUE BARBEAU:  You can reduce the number of egg yolks to three in this recipe in the event that you’re watching your dietary guidelines, or have a cholesterol problem.  It will still set up the same, as well as the butter at the end of the recipe.  You can eliminate that, also.  That just adds richness to the finished product.

BURT WOLF:   So I can do it with three yolks and seven whites --

MONIQUE BARBEAU:  Exactly --

BURT WOLF:   -- and skip the butter at the end.

MONIQUE BARBEAU:  Right.

BURT WOLF:   Great tip.

Then the juice of six lemons goes in, followed by two cups of sugar, and the zest of two lemons. All that gets mixed together.  While those ingredients are getting mixed, the bowl gets heated over a sauté pan of boiling water. The steam does a more even and gentle job of heating the bowl than direct flame.

MONIQUE BARBEAU:  What you want to look for is, you want to look for the change from a very liquid, water form to sort of a Hollandaise consistency.  You also want to be whisking in sort of a “crazy-eight” motion, so you incorporate a lot of air.  This dessert needs a lot of air so it’s not flat.  Then, as the eggs cook, you don’t want to overcook them, but as long as it’s just simmering under the bowl, they’re gonna cook slowly.  And as soon as it gets to Hollandaise temperature, that means the eggs have started to cook, and they’ve incorporated the liquid and they become thick.  And you’ll just know by, ummm...

BURT WOLF:   Looking!

MONIQUE BARBEAU:  Looking.

BURT WOLF:   Looking is good!

MONIQUE BARBEAU:  Looking is good.

When the mixture has reached the thickness of a Hollandaise sauce, it's taken off the heat and the six optional tablespoons of butter are whisked in.  At that point it's poured into a pre-cooked 12-inch pie crust, and sent off to the refrigerator to solidify. It’ll take about 20 minutes for the lemon curd to set.  Then Monique adds a garnish of candied lemon zest and the tart’s ready to serve.

And finally, Genevieve Harris, at the Bathers Pavilion restaurant in Sydney, Australia is making a gingerbread loaf with carmelized apples to go with our coffee.  She starts by putting seven ounces of butter into a mixing bowl and whisking it together with one and a quarter cups of brown sugar.

When the mixture is smooth, in go two eggs, which are incorporated one at a time.  Then three-quarters of a cup of dark corn syrup is mixed with three-quarters of a cup of hot water.  Two teaspoons of ground ginger are mixed together with three and a half cups of all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons of baking soda and 2 tablespoons of cinnamon.  Some of that mixture gets sifted right into the butter blend.  Then a little of the corn syrup is stirred in.  That process of alternately adding the dry flour and the moist corn syrup continues until all of them have been incorporated into the batter.

GENEVIEVE HARRIS:  If you put all the liquid in first and then add your dry ingredients, you’ll have a very wet batter and you’ll get large clumps of flour that won’t mix into your batter.  So when it’s cooked, and you slice the gingerbread, there’ll be large lumps of flour, white flour, through it.

A strip of parchment paper goes into the bottom of a lightly-buttered loaf pan. That strip of paper will be of enormous value when it is time to remove the cake from the pan. Then in goes the batter. The baking takes place in a preheated 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes. At which point it comes out of the oven to cool. A mixture of equal volumes of brown sugar and water is heated together until it comes to the boil. Genevieve used a half cup of water and a half cup of sugar. In go a few peeled, cored and sliced Granny Smith apples. They cook for 3 minutes.

BURT WOLF:   I should point out that Granny Smith was a real person, who lived here in Sydney, Australia -- and invented the Granny Smith apple.

Then the cake comes out of the pan.  See?  I told you that the paper would come in handy. One-inch-thick slices are cut, and placed onto a serving dish. The carmelized apple slices go on, and a few spoons of melted vanilla ice cream.

Any of those with a cup of coffee and you have a combination that leaves no “grounds” for appeal.  But if you are sitting at an Italian cafe, in or out of Italy, the accompaniment that you are likely to see with your espresso or cappuccino is a cookie with a two hundred year-old love story. 

This is what the Italian city of Saronno looked like in the old days.  It is a town that has become famous because of two lovers who lived here and memorialized their affection in the form of a cookie.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The year was 1789.  The lovers were Giuseppe and Osolina.  The Bishop of Milano had decided to pay a visit to the town of Saronno, but gave very little notice.  No one could prepare a suitable celebration.  Giuseppe, however, decided to mark the occasion by inventing a cookie.  He did not have very many ingredients -- egg whites, sugar, the kernels of apricots.  The result, however, were these extraordinary light, crisp confections.  Osolina decided to wrap them in pairs as a symbol of their love.

Today these cookies are still made in the same town in which they were originally baked.  They are called Amaretti di Saronno, and they are shipped all over the world.  Roberto Colombo shows us how they’re made.

ROBERTO COLOMBO:  Every year we produce here about 6,000 tons of biscuits. 

BURT WOLF:   So those are the pits of apricots, ground up.

ROBERTO COLOMBO:  Exactly.  Exactly.  We only use three ingredients for Amaretti production -- one is apricot kernels, the egg whites, and the last one, the most important one, is sugar.  After that, this machine, which is called the depositer --

BURT WOLF:   “Depositer?”

ROBERTO COLOMBO:  -- yes, the depositer will shape the dough in small pieces just by pressing the dough through the nozzles.  After the shaping of the dough, they will be covered with topping sugar.

BURT WOLF:   Topping sugar.  Is that a special kind --?

ROBERTO COLOMBO:  Yeah, it’s a special sugar; some granules combine together in order to obtain large particles of sugar.  The excess is removed, and after that the product is ready to go into the oven for the baking process.  After coming out of the oven, the Amaretti di Saronno need to be cooled down, so we go on this conveyor here, we put them in two rows in order to bring them to the packing lines.  So now we will go down there.  . . . After cooling, the Amaretti di Saronno are fitted [?] with this little conveyor to a wrapping machine.  This is quite a difficult operation to be done because, you know, you have to take two biscuits, put one upside-down on the other, and then put the little piece of paper around it and twist it.  It’s quite difficult.

To come back to the early part of this story... when the Bishop visited Saronno, he tasted the Amaretti and gave them his gastronomic blessing.  He also performed the marriage of Giuseppe and Osolina, who lived happily ever after.  And whose children and children’s children have continued to bake the Amaretti, making Lazzaroni the oldest still operating bakery in Italy.  And that’s True Love.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Coffee: the drink that appears to have created a gathering of its own.  A gathering that was often associated with creativity, and the exchange of new and sometimes revolutionary ideas -- all rather stimulating.  And for a little more stimulation, I hope you will join us next time as we travel around the world looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives. I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Carnival in New Orleans - #110

Carnival has its roots in an ancient Roman holiday called the Feast of Saturn.  It was used as an escape valve to help reduce the tensions between the Rich And Famous and the Never To Be Rich And Famous.  It created an outlet for the frustrations of a major part of the society.  There were many more Roman slaves than there were Roman rulers.  The Feast of Saturn  distracted the slaves from doing the math and trying to take control.  When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Feast of Saturn was converted into Carnival.  The last day of Carnival became known as Fat Tuesday, or in French... Mardi Gras.  It’s the last opportunity for the Catholic community to live it up before the forty days of Lent that are marked with fasting and abstinence.  Carnival was imported to the new world by the original French and Spanish settlers.  Even today, many of the rituals of the New Orleans Mardi Gras are the same ones that are followed in France and Spain. The ethnic origins of New Orleans are still here, still respected, and still presented as dramatically as ever.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is packed with the ancient and traditional elements of Carnival.  And one of the most important ingredients is the theme of importing something from some other time or place. One way to take in something from someplace else is to bring up The Past.  The past usually feels like it’s in some other place, and during Carnival it is constantly dragged out and put on view.  Most of the Krewes have names from the past, taken from Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The earliest forms of Carnival go all the way back to ancient Rome.  They were designed to keep the masses happy and in line and amused.  And one of the ways they did that was to throw things to them.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  In New Orleans hundreds of thousands of plastic necklaces and coins called doubloons are flung from the floats to the crowds below.  The town is filled with people walking about wearing the necklaces, and fingering the coins that they have managed to catch during the ritual.  It was designed as a way of letting everyone feel that they are getting, or at least have an opportunity of getting, a piece of The Good Life.  The guys on the floats have everything they want.  They are “up there,” moving through life.  The watchers, on the other hand, are more or less locked in place, watching life go by.  It is hoped that the distribution of the trinkets will help keep the watchers amused and in place.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  It’s a perfect Carnival joke.  It celebrates the American myth of equal opportunity and success through the accumulation of material wealth -- and yet at the very same time it makes fun of it.  And that’s what Carnival is all about -- making fun of those things which are normally respected.

The first documented Carnival processions in New Orleans, with masks in the street, took place in 1837.  It developed out of a mixture of French, Spanish and Portuguese traditions, African rituals and the masked balls that were held by the aristocratic families of the Confederacy.  In many cases, the pageants of the past were hard-hitting and made fun of life in New Orleans.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Over the years, there’s been a change in the content of the festival.  These days a New Orleans Mardi Gras float is most likely to make fun of something that is safe, something that is already in the process of being joked about.  It’s a distinct feature of North American culture to institute change without revolution, and these days the New Orleans Mardi Gras functions within that format.  It’s a lot like the cooking -- hot and spicy, but not so hot or so spicy as to offend the millons of tourists who come here each year.

It’s just spicy enough to get you thinking about maybe making little changes in your own recipes.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The end of the Christmas season is January 6th, which is also known as Twelfth Night, Epiphany, or Kings’ Day.  It may be the end of the Christmas season, but it’s the beginning of a new period called Shrovetide. 

The last Monday of Shrovetide is known as Collop Monday, and the traditional foods for that day are eggs fried on top of bacon.  Bacon and eggs were two of the most common foods that were given up for Lent and this was a last official time for their preparation.  Jeff Tunks, who is the executive chef of the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, takes a rather untraditional approach to the bacon-and-eggs of Collop Monday.

JEFF TUNKS:  ...and as I said, this is almost similar to a, very much like a quiche recipe, I would say, you know.  And in fact, we have a ramekin here; you can do it in a ramekin, you can do this in a normal quiche-type pie mold... Basically you just whip up your eggs, nine eggs, and you’re gonna add just one quart of heavy cream.  This is our “spa custard,” we call it.

BURT WOLF:   Oh, yes.

JEFF TUNKS:  Typical of New Orleans-type spa food here.  Yes, this is the home of low-cal cooking, as they say.  Just gonna beat this up to a nice custard mix. Gonna add a little bit of kosher salt just to season the custard...

BURT WOLF:   Why kosher salt?

JEFF TUNKS:  I just -- I think it’s just got a better feel to it; it’s easier to season when you’re using your fingers to it.  It’s more of a pure salt flavor.  We’re gonna make the egg custard into the actual egg itself.  I’ve got this medieval tool here that we get at any Williams-Sonoma, very, very cheap; it’s about --

BURT WOLF:   It looks like Mickey!

JEFF TUNKS:  It looks like Mickey until you press Mickey’s ears; then it looks like Evil Mickey almost; it’s got the teeth here.  We take the fine point of the egg and just top it like that and just pour out the egg itself like that.  And this is the actual egg that we use for the custard mix itself -- without the shells, of course.

BURT WOLF:   If I don’t have an egg cutter, what do I use?

JEFF TUNKS:  Very carefully you would just take maybe just a sharp knife and just pop it around the sides here; it’s not quite as clean of a cut, but it does do the same thing.  And you would have to just sort of clean up with your fingers some of the loose errant shell.  And you would have basically the same --

BURT WOLF:   Fine.  Okay.

JEFF TUNKS:  -- not quite as even, but it’s pretty easy.  The way I cook these, I save the carton that it came in.  And so it keeps them steady.  We’re gonna take just the prosciutto julienne there -- pretty much to your liking how much you want to add -- and so after you add the prosciutto we’re gonna add a little bit, just of the crumbled Stilton cheese, one of my favorite cheeses.  And if you don’t have Stilton cheese, you can use any kind of, you know, good quality blue-veined cheese.  Goat cheese would be fine here, too.  It’s really, like I said, up to your personal taste and your product availament [sic] in your area there.  And then we’re just gonna take this, the goose-neck, and we’re just gonna fill ‘em up to almost the top.  And then to finish cooking this -- it’s very easy to cook -- we take a, just a hotel pan that fits it, we put the whole carton of eggs in the hotel pan, and we take some hot water and fill it up.  Basically we want to do a hot water bath so it doesn’t scorch the custard mixture.  And you want to fill it up -- the carton gets soaked; that’s no problem, it holds up pretty well.  Cover it with just some good aluminum foil, and I put this in a slow oven, probably around 275, for twenty to twenty-five minutes.  And you can check it like checking a cake, you can always test it with a toothpick or a jiglette, see it’s got some firmness to it.  And then we serve a very small espresso-style demitasse spoon with it, so that you can freely remove all the contents from the egg.

BURT WOLF:   That’s the best presentation of bacon and eggs I’ve ever seen.

JEFF TUNKS:  Well, good.

The Windsor Court Hotel is considered by many to be one of the finest hotels in the United States.  Most of their rooms are actually suites... the swimming pool and health club are in a class by themselves... the walls of its public areas are covered with museum-quality art... and the artistic quality of its restaurant, The Grill Room, is highly respected.  Pastry Chef Kurt Ebert further proves the point as he prepares a classic New Orleans recipe -- pralines!

KURT EBERT:  We are starting with about five ounces of butter.  The butter will have to be melted first before I put the cream and the sugar in.  This is a half a quart of cream, or two cups.  At this stage I can add my sugar to it, and I’ll be adding brown sugar first; it doesn’t matter, and this is one pound.  One pound of brown sugar, and we also add one pound of white sugar.

BURT WOLF:   Okay.

KURT EBERT:  I will be adding a little bit of vanilla beans to it.  If you don’t have any vanilla beans, a lot of people have this Mexican vanilla essence --

BURT WOLF:   -- vanilla extract --

KURT EBERT:  -- the extract and stuff like that.  Some people put vanilla beans in their ventilation system.

BURT WOLF:   In the ventilation system?

KURT EBERT:  It makes the house smell really wonderful.

BURT WOLF:   I’ll put ‘em in my socks and see what it does there.

KURT EBERT:  Oh, God.  (laughter)  And that is it; now all I have to do is wait for the cooking, because you do have to get the temperature right before your nuts to it.  I can actually try to test it, I’ll do this test...  A nice plate, a white, straight plate, and you drop some on here.  So this cools down immediately, and you can look how it’s running.

BURT WOLF:   Aha.

KURT EBERT:  So you don’t have to use your finger, you don’t have a thermometer, so do the old-fashioned plate test.  And this is not done yet, it’s too...

BURT WOLF:   It’s too much moisture in there --

KURT EBERT:  It’s getting there, it’s getting there, you see?  See what it does?

BURT WOLF:   Ahh.  It’s beginning.

KURT EBERT:  Like it’s not supposed to be runny.  But I think I’m getting close.  See the bubbles, how different they are from a minute ago?  They’re more -- it’s almost like a volcano kind of thing.  It’s correct, it’s time to proceed.  It is approximately two pounds, and I’m just adding them in until I think it’s the right amount.  So it’s really important that you pre-toast them first.  Every nut is basically fat, oil.  So you’re toasting it to reduce the oil of the nut, and you enhance and bring out the flavor of every nut.

BURT WOLF:   Interesting -- so when I toast a nut, I reduce the amount of oil, it vaporizes, and I get a concentrated flavor.

KURT EBERT:  That’s right, ‘cause the pecans will not really cook in this batter; they’ll just be coated in it.  So you pre-cook them.  Transferring it onto the cookie sheet, you can either use two spoons or one spoon.  They’re very shiny and almost translucent at this point.  Now, this is one method.  Some people are more comfortable using two spoons.  So you go in with one spoon, and you take the other one and you sort of turn it out like that.  Because you cannot touch it with your hands, it’s way too hot.

BURT WOLF:   And how long do they sit?

KURT EBERT:  It’ll take about, I would think, half an hour, forty-five minutes, and they’ll be ready for feasting.

Pralines are a signature food in New Orleans, along with jambalaya, blackened fish, beignets, remoulades -- but there’s only one food that is specifically unique to Mardi Gras... King Cake. 

For hundreds of years, both in France and in New Orleans, King Cake was traditionally served at a ball that was given on the Twelfth Night of Christmas.  It marked the beginning of the Carnival Season.  It’s made of a rich, yeasty dough and decorated with sugar that has been dyed in the official Mardi Gras colors.  Green symbolizes faith, the gold stands for power, and the purple for justice.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  At the stroke of midnight everybody would sit down around a table and have a piece of cake and a cup of champagne punch.  Hidden inside the cake was a token -- it could have been a bean, or a nut, or a porcelain baby doll.  Whoever got the token became the reigning monarch.  If it was a man, he would choose his queen, if it was a woman she would choose her king.  And they would reign for a week.  At the end of the week, a new king and queen would be chosen through the same ritual.  Very often in a Creole home you will find an old jewelry box, and inside the box will be a porcelain baby doll -- a reminder of the time when they were the King or Queen of a carnival party.

To say that the King Cake tradition was still alive would be an extraordinary understatement.  Each year well over one million of these cakes are sold, and they have become so popular that the bakers produce them all year long and actually ship them all over the world.  This is Haydel’s Bakery in New Orleans, and it’s quite special.  In addition to the plastic baby doll in the cake, there is a porcelain collector’s doll.  And in one cake each week, there is a certificate that can be exchanged for a solid gold King Cake Baby.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  If you ever end up at a carnival party and your piece of cake doesn’t contain the token that makes you king or queen, don’t feel too bad.  Along with the right to become king or queen, you also get the responsibility to organize and pay for next week’s party.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Good food and good restaurants are clearly important in New Orleans.  But how did these traditions get started?  Well, it appears that there were two major events influencing their development.  The first was the French Revolution that took place in the late 1700s, during which thousands of nobles had their heads cut off -- leaving thousands of French chefs with nobody to cook for.  They heard about a French-speaking colony in the New World called New Orleans, and they headed over.  The second event took place in the early 1800s, and it was a massive slave rebellion in the French colonies in the Caribbean.  The French were terrified, and they headed to New Orleans for safety.  So within a decade or two, thousands of Frenchmen showed up in New Orleans and started doing their traditional cookin’.

At the same time, the town was coming into a period of economic growth.  People were getting rich.  Now for some folks, one of the problems of acquiring wealth is that it doesn’t feel good just to have it. They need to show it.  And one of the ways they did that in New Orleans was to get out to a famous restaurant.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  If you didn’t show up at an important local restaurant two or three times a week, people in the social set began to think that maybe you were running out of money.  Eating out in a restaurant was a key opportunity to show that you were still in the chips and to see who else was in there with you.  The tradition has remained part of New Orleans life -- if ya got it, get out and show it.

Carnival has always been a place where ordinary people who had very little chance to be creative in their everyday lives could suddenly display their imagination.  The Mardi Gras Indians are a perfect example of people using Carnival to show their amazing creativity. The Mardi Gras Indians are groups from the black community who call themselves “tribes,” and wear costumes inspired by the dress of the American Indian.  Larry Bannock is Chief of the Golden Star Hunters.

LARRY BANNOCK:   Basically I taught myself.  Over twenty-four years you just get better and better, you know.  Every year you learn something different.  There never was the Indian suit that was completed.  I mean, Mardi Gras morning, time is short, money is funny and everybody’s looking at you -- “Let’s go, let’s go!”  So you put it on.  But one of these suits, they’ve never been finished.  There’s always something else you could do to add on, you could add on. 

BURT WOLF:   You think there’s one message that the Indian sends to everybody when they see him?

LARRY BANNOCK:   Well... all I can speak for is the message I send.  When I do a patch, I do a patch because I want it to have a meaning and a purpose.  It’s like a spiritual thing.  It’s like this patch here.  When I do a patch I pay respect to the red man for what they did for us.  But then again, you look at the red man culture, the black man culture -- when we were slaves, the red men were the first to accept us as men.  So this is just a way of paying respect to them.  ...  A lot of times people think Indians are just a bunch of guys putting on a costume, but this is a ritual or a culture that starts in September and goes all the way to Mardi Gras day.  A lot of people don’t know the heartaches and the pain and headaches that you go through to do this, I mean... it’s no fun, believe me.

BURT WOLF:   Then why do you do it?

LARRY BANNOCK:   Because you love it.  Once you do it, and you really love it, you never want to stop.

The ancient Greeks, who had a different god for virtually everything, gave the responsibility for parades to a deity known as Dionysus.  In Latin he was called Bacchus.  And in New Orleans he is honored with his own Krewe.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Bacchus was a foreigner who came from outside the city.  He invaded the village and forced everybody to stop their normal activities.  The entire population had to give up what they were doing and attend to his needs for wine, women, song, and a lustful life -- pretty much what modern Mardi Gras does to New Orleans.

Bacchus was the god of “standing outside,” which is to say in one sense he stood for things that were outside the city, but he also represented the idea of being outside your real self.  Bacchus was often presented in his role as the god of wine.  When someone has had too much to drink, his behavior can change to a point where he appears to be “outside his normal self.”  Bacchus was also the god of the theater, which is an essential element in Carnival. You dress up and pretend you are somebody that you are not.  You step outside yourself.  You lose yourself, either in the part you are playing or in the crowd that is looking on.  He is the personification of Chaos, and his presence is felt in every Carnival around the world.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Bacchus presents a rather interesting collection of personal habits.  He’s always presenting himself as something he is not... he is perpetually lost in his own image of who he wants to be... and he is always willing to disrupt everything.  He is Chaos personified.  I’m surprised he’s not the patron god of the U.S. Senate.  Just a joke -- but it’s just the kind of joke that you are supposed to make at Carnival.  Remember this whole thing is about poking fun at the powerful.

This is the Mardi Gras Museum in Rivertown, near the New Orleans International Airport, which is about twenty minutes from downtown.  It’s open every day except Monday.  And this is Arthur Hardy, an expert on Mardi Gras and the publisher of the annual Mardi Gras Guide.

ARTHUR HARDY:  We’re now going into a room that’s kind of like a funhouse, almost an old visiting carnival-style affair.  This is called our Peek Show, where kids can get in here and pretend they’re costumed for Mardi Gras.

BURT WOLF:   What about adults who behave like kids?

ARTHUR HARDY:  They’re welcome too. ... This part of the Mardi Gras Museum, Burt, replicates a French Quarter scene, with an authentic balcony, and a very famous float from the Rex Parade.  As you know, Carnival’s filled with symbolism, and this fatted bull or ox represents the last meat eaten before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday.

BURT WOLF:   Hundreds of years ago in Europe, that was always a real ox --

ARTHUR HARDY:  Yes!

BURT WOLF:   -- and they would cut it up at the end and distribute the food.

ARTHUR HARDY:  And the peasants would have a party.  Absolutely.

BURT WOLF:   And now we make it in plastic.  You think they’re trying to tell us something about the quality of our food?

ARTHUR HARDY:  I think so! ... One of my favorite parts of the Mardi Gras Museum, Burt, is this timeline, which works in reverse.  It starts with Mardi Gras last year and goes all the way back into really prehistoric times.  And there’s so many different objects on the timeline because Mardi Gras has so many different components.  A lot of it is really gaudy, some of it is beautiful.  Nineteenth Century invitations to Mardi Gras balls were actually made in Paris; they were die-cut and they’re collector’s items today.  Now we don’t spend quite that much time or money or artistic effort with our pieces of future memorabilia, but it’s still a celebration that’s chronicled on many different levels -- from this morning’s newspaper to things that came about perhaps a hundred and fifty, a hundred and sixty years ago. ...  Mardi Gras is filled with contradictions.  You know, it’s called The World’s Greatest Free Show, and yet seven hundred million dollars is spent on it.  You would think we don’t want tourists to come; we do, but it’s a party the city throws for itself, and it would continue even if visitors didn’t come -- although it’s a world-class tourist attraction.  We hold it on a different date each year, and that would almost seem to discourage people from coming.  It has its own vocabulary, its own traditions.  It’s a hard thing to understand, but once you come, you’re hooked.  You know, the neat thing about Mardi Gras is there are no spectators; everybody’s a participant.  And to kind of transform yourself into the spirit, we ask you to wear a costume or a mask.  So why don’t you try one on, see if you can find something that fits?

BURT WOLF:   Well, let’s see... am I doing this properly?

ARTHUR HARDY:  Oh, yeah.  Oh, that’s a winner.

BURT WOLF:   Yeah?

ARTHUR HARDY:  That is you.                  

BURT WOLF:   Doesn’t it clash a little bit with my handkerchief?

ARTHUR HARDY:  That’s the idea!  Burt, I think the one point I’d like everybody to get out of this is if you really want to know Mardi Gras, you can’t study it, you can’t read about it, you can’t look at films -- you’ve got to come here and experience it.  It’s like nothing else on Earth, and I hope everybody has a chance, at least one time, to be in New Orleans at Mardi Gras.  It’s just wonderful.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  All festivals have a job to do and Mardi Gras is no exception.  The most important job for Mardi Gras is to turn everything upside-down, to take the recognizable everyday structure of our lives, toss it out, and replace it with utter chaos.  But chaos is only left in charge for a brief time.  And it is always presented in a way that is clearly designed to teach everyone that madness, rebellion and confusion are things that they do not want in their lives on a regular basis. 

A contrast is set up to make the point that order and organization are essential for the survival of the community, and they must be reestablished at the end of Mardi Gras.

POLICEMAN’S VOICE:  “Mardi Gras is officially over; would you please clear the streets?”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Carnival tried to give all the elements of  the society a sense that they had some part of the action.  And I hope you will join us next time and take some part of our action, as we travel around the world looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: June Feast Days in Portugal - #109

Portugal runs along the southwestern edge of Europe, where the land ends and the sea begins.  And just below the mid-point of the coastline is the capital city of Lisbon.  For hundreds of years Lisbon was home to the ruling families of Portugal, the center of one of the world’s most powerful nations.  In the middle of the 1400s, the King of Portugal described himself as “The Lord Of Navigation, Conqueror Of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India.  And that was his most modest title.  The one he used only with his closest friends.

The wealth that Portugal brought back from its colonies in Asia and the New World made Lisbon one of the most energetic cities in Europe.  And you can still see the impact of those years as you move around the city.

 Torre de Belem is a fortress built in the 1500s; it’s the spot where the great navigators of Portugal began their voyages of exploration...  the actual point of land where Vasco da Gama set sail on a journey that would uncover the sea route to the riches of Asia.

And this is the Monastery of Jeronimos, built in the early 1500s to honor da Gama’s trip around the bottom of Africa and on to India.  The structure is made of limestone and it’s a classic example of the architectural style known as the Late Gothic.

The river that runs along the city empties out into the Atlantic Ocean, but the rhythm and lifestyle of the people are really very Mediterranean.  For the most part, the residents of Lisbon are easy-going people.  The tension level is rather low.  The desire to take a somewhat laid-back approach to life is quite high.  And yet everything gets done and functions well.

The center of the city is the Praca do Comercio, an enormous square at the edge of the river.  Also along the river is the Ribeira, where the fishing boats come in.  And across the street, the Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon’s great market... with its fruits, vegetables and the fresh fish that come in from the boats across the road.   Chiado is the most fashionable area for  shopping, and Ruo Garret is the busiest street.  This is the Brasileira. I am told that it is the cafe of choice for Lisbon’s artists and politicians.  And finally, the church of Saint Anthony:  very important for the first part of our story, which deals with the favorite saints of Portugal -- including Saint Anthony.

Portugal has three saints who are so well liked that they are literally known as the “Popular Saints.”  They are St. Anthony, St. John and St. Peter.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  St. John, St. Peter and St. Anthony were real people with real lives.  Sometimes they lived up to the ideals of sainthood, and sometimes they just lived it up.  But their human problems made them seem like friends to the people of Portugal, and their feast days are celebrated with dancing, parades, and good food.

MONTAGE OF FEAST OF ST. ANTHONY

The feasts of the popular saints of Portugal include a rather extensive range of activities.  There are, of course, religious events, but there’s also quite a bit of dancing in the streets, huge parties and a lot of outdoor cooking.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  A writer by the name of Claude Levi-Strauss once put forward a theory that the further a food is from the heat source while it is being cooked, the more “noble” its preparation. 

Frying, boiling and stewing are considered by him to be “low” forms of cooking because the meat is surrounded by heat, but only in the form of a liquid.  Roasting and grilling are the “noble” forms and suitable for feasts.  Interesting idea, and there may be some truth to it.  If you think about our important feasts -- Christmas, Thanksgiving, Independence Day -- the main foods are traditionally roasted or grilled. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Anthropologists point out that whenever an animal is killed, there’s a certain amount of guilt attached to it.  And that in ancient times that guilt fell most heavily on the hunters.  They feel that hunters developed the idea of the animal sacrifice in order to give a symbolic structure and meaning to their activities, and possibly to distract the gods from the fact that they had just killed one of the animals created by the gods.  They feel that whenever men work at a grill, some of that ancient ritual is part of the process.

Though St. Anthony, St. John and St. Peter are all honored, the favorite saint of Portugal is Saint Anthony of Padua, who lived during the 1200s.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  St. Anthony died in Padua, in Italy, but he was born in Lisbon.  His original name was Fernando, and he lived in a little hideaway for monks called St. Anthony’s Hermitage.  When he was twenty-five years old he decided that his life was too soft, and he was going to move to North Africa to convert the local residents.  He never got there, though.  His ship was blown off-course by a storm, and he ended up in Sicily, where he met a man who eventually became St. Francis.  Saint Anthony turned out to be quite a linguist; he mastered all of the dialects then used in Italy, as well as most of the languages used in France.  Most people have no idea that Saint Anthony of Padua really came from Lisbon.  But the people of Portugal are very concerned about this lack of accurate information, and they want it to be corrected.  So from now on I am going to refer to him as St. Anthony Of Padua, Formerly Of Lisbon.  It takes a little longer to say but it’s clearly more accurate.

Lisbon is built on seven hills, but two of them hold dominant positions.  One is Castelo de S. Jorge, a Moorish castle with medieval ramparts that date back to the 400s.  On the other side is Bairro da Lapa, which was the residential area for the nobility.  One of the stately houses that still remains on the hill was built over a hundred years ago as the home of the Count Valencas.  Today it is one of the most elegant hotels in Europe... Hotel da Lapa.

One of the highlights of the hotel is the gastronomic restaurant under the direction of Chef Bernard Guillot.  Today he’s going to prepare a few traditional Portuguese dishes.  The first course is a codfish and potato cake.

The codfish starts out as a dry block but after two days of soaking in water, water which was changed about every four hours, you end up with a piece of fish that looks like this.  At which point the bones are removed and the skin cut away.  Much as I love authentic recipes, my plan is to just buy a nice piece of fresh, skinless, boneless cod and pick it up from there.  The piece, which weighs about three ounces, is cut into three slices.  A potato is cut into pieces that are about the same size as the chunks of cod.

A cup of milk goes into a saucepan.  As soon as it’s simmering, the cod and the potatoes are added.  Then three cloves of minced garlic.  All that cooks together for ten minutes or until almost all of the liquid has been cooked off.  While that’s going on, the potatoes and fish are broken up into small pieces and loosely mashed together.  A little olive oil is added.  Bernard uses extra-virgin olive oil because, for one thing, it’s the highest quality and for another, it’s the lowest in acidity.  Which is what he wants in terms of the dish’s flavor. 

Three more cloves of crushed garlic and an optional two tablespoons of cream go in.  I say optional, not because I have anything against cream.  It’s just that I like to limit my intake of saturated fat and take it where I enjoy it the most.  And for me that would be ice cream rather than fish cakes. 

Now it’s time to form the cod and potato mixture into little round cakes.  Bernard uses a pastry mold but a tunafish can with the top and bottom cut out would work just as well.  A sauce is made by heating a little olive oil and some chopped coriander together for three minutes.  Then the codfish cakes go onto a serving plate, followed by a little of the coriander sauce, and a few coriander leaves.

The main course is a traditional Portuguese fish stew.  About an ounce of olive oil is heated in a sauté pan.  A quarter of a yellow bell pepper is seeded, sliced, minced and added to the pan.  A quarter of a cup’s worth of leeks are chopped and added in.  Two tablespoons of minced coriander are mixed in.  A few minutes of cooking and a half cup of fish stock is added to the pan.  

Then two cups of tomato juice, another half cup of chopped leeks, a minced clove of garlic and a half cup of white wine are added.  All of which Bernard claims to have already mixed together.  I didn’t actually see it happen but I’ll take his word for it.  He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would mislead you on a recipe, but you never know.  My grandmother did it all the time.

The seafood is a mixture of fish and shellfish.  You’ll need a total of about three ounces of fish and two ounces of shellfish per person.  The pieces of fish go in first and cook for one minute, at which point they are turned.  Then a mixture of cubed carrots, mushrooms, potatoes and zucchini are added.  A little tasting.  A little salt.  About a half tablespoon of sliced fresh ginger.  Now the pre-cooked shellfish go in.  And finally a few shrimp.  Bernard uses half with their heads on, the other half are headless.  Two more minutes of cooking and the stew is spooned out into a traditionally Portuguese ceramic dish.  First the fish, then the shellfish, some of the sauce and finally a garnish of coriander.

And how about a little wine to go with that?

The year was 1944. Europe was in the middle of the Second World War. The farms and vineyards of Germany, Italy, France and Spain were in total disarray. Everyone had forgotten about making European wine for export.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Everyone, that is,  except a man named Henry Behar.  Henry was a New Yorker in the business of importing European wines to the United States, and he believed that while the American troops were in Europe, they had developed a taste for wine which they were not going to give up when they got home.  Italy, France, Germany and Spain might have been a wreck -- but Portugal was in good shape.  They had been a neutral country during the Second World War, they had a winemaking tradition that went back as far as any other European country, and their winemaking facilities were ready to go. 

So Mr. Behar came to the town of Azeitao, just outside the city of Lisbon, and began looking for a wine that would appeal to American tastes.  He found it in the form of a local rosé, which he put into a bottle that reminded him of the ancient amphora.  An amphora was the container used by the Romans to bring wines from this area back to Rome.  He named it “Lancers” after a painting by Velasques.  The painting shows the King of Spain and Portugal just after he had won a great battle against the Dutch.  Behar also put a picture of a ship called a “caravel” on the label to remind him of the great times when Portuguese explorers like Vasco da Gama and Magellan traveled around the world in this same type of craft. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Eventually Lancers became the most popular Portuguese wine imported into the United States.  And it’s still made in the same little part of Portugal where Behar found it. The winemaker purchases fermented grape juice from the local farmers that’s been produced to his specifications. 

The juices are held in these tanks, which take their shape from ancient Moorish structures.  Both the form and the color reduce the effect of the sun’s rays and help keep down the vats’ internal temperature.  The juices are then blended to make either the White, Red, Rosé or Blush.  After the blending, the wine is filtered and chilled.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The first time a wine is chilled it may develop a sediment.  The winemaker doesn’t want that to happen in your refrigerator.  So they chill the wine at the winery and then filter it away from any sediment that forms.  At that point, it is ready to develop its sparkle.  Now, the technique that’s used to introduce this sparkle was developed by the Russians -- not necessarily a country that you would associate with bubbly beverages.  Nevertheless, it was a group of Russian scientists that developed the technology.

This is a miniature model of the cross-section of the tanks in which the wines develop their natural effervescence.   The tanks are filled with swirling strips of oak.  Wine is poured into the tanks, and at the same time a little yeast is added, and some grape juice.  The living yeast settles on the surface of the wood, which spreads it out and keeps it in contact with the wine.  The yeast interacts with the natural sugar in the grape juice and produces the tiny little bubbles that are found in all these wines.  The wines move through these vats in a continuous process that lasts for twenty-eight days.  One more filtration and it’s into the bottle.

Very often, there is a particular artform that appeals to the craftspeople of a nation.  And it fascinates them to the point where they turn the form into something quite extraordinary.  In Portugal, one  artform that falls into this category produces the colored tiles known as Azulejo.

VASCO D’AVILLEZ:  This panel that you see here is from the Fourteenth Century.  And it’s typical Moorish decoration.  The Moors, by their own religion, could not reproduce human figures or animal figures, so they went into a geometric theme to decorate the interior of their homes.  It is interesting that not only they painted they painted the tiles with different colors, but they had to try and resolve a problem, and that was that the colors would not run one into the other.  And this was difficult, so they invented a way -- they made a little division in each design, so it was an enormous amount of handwork to divide everything, one from the other, with a tiny string embedded in some kind of fat.  That would make -- excuse me to repeat the word -- a tiny wall around all the design.  And inside those walls they would dip the ink.  When the tile went to the oven to be baked, the string and the fat would disappear because of the temperature -- this is high temperature -- and the ink would dry immediately, therefore not running into each other.

The next step -- and we now move into the Fifteenth Century -- the next step is, they thought about it, and -- too much work, lots of hands.  So they created a stamp, and while the tile -- it’s made of clay -- while the tile was still soft, they would stamp it, and it created a low relief.  And in those low reliefs they would then dip the ink, and when it was baked the ink would dry.  And hopefully it wouldn’t run.  But it was not as perfect, because there are places where you can see, in here for instance, that the green runs into the white a little bit.  But still, the tile is to be observed and to be appreciated at a distance.  So in that respect, at a distance, you don’t detect, or you cannot detect so many defects and so on. 

Then I want to show you this corner now.  There’s another one that you would notice just below with green -- this one, with the green colors.  In order to paint green, they needed elements that were only available in Spain.  But we were always at odds with Spain, and in fact, most of the time at war with them.  So there was only one time, between 1580 and 1640, where the King of Spain, the famous Phillip II, was also King of Portugal.  So there was peace, and there was a constant flow of goods -- including the green.  So in Portugal, to find old tiles painted green, it’s very easy to date them.  They are between 1580 and 1640.

The second great city of Portugal is Oporto, with a population of about one million.  It’s the industrial center of northern Portugal.  Like Lisbon, it sits on top of a group of hills looking down on a river.  The river, opening out into the Atlantic Ocean, has made the city an important port for over two thousand years.   Directly across the river from Oporto is an area known as Vila Nova de Gaia. Originally it was a separate settlement, but in recent times it has become almost a part of Oporto.  Vila Nova de Gaia is the heart of the world’s port wine business. The buildings that you are looking at are called “lodges,” and they are filled with port that is aging, either in barrels or bottles.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  There are more stories about how port got started than there are ports, but they all seem to have one element in common.  At some point the winemakers here in the northeastern part of Portugal began making a wine that was sweet.  In order to balance that sweetness, they started introducing brandy.  Then the process ended up with what we now call port. The British loved it.  It tasted great and it traveled well.  It became so popular that a number of British families actually moved to Oporto in order to start businesses that would produce and export what was rapidly becoming their favorite drink.

The story of port got started about 2,000 years ago when the ancient Romans started to grow wine grapes in the northern part of Portugal.  English traders showed up in the 1300s, and began exchanging English wool and corn for Portuguese wine and olive oil.  Then in the 1600s, one of the English traders, John Croft, started shipping port wine back to England.

There are basically two varieties of port:  vintage port and tawny port.  John Burnett, a winemaker and managing director of Croft & Company explains the differences.

JOHN BURNETT:  A vintage port is basically a wine which is matured in bottle.  Vintage ports are only made two or three times in a decade, and they only represent a very small fraction of the harvest we make in that year.  So the year has got to be of exceptional quality, it’s super-selected, matured in bottle, and it’s probably not going to be drinkable for at least ten or fifteen years after bottling.  If you’re talking about tawny port, you’re talking about a wine which has been matured in wood for a considerable period of time, and it has actually turned color.  It’s gone from ruby, the starting point, to this rather brownish-orange flavor.  It’s also mellowed as well.  When you smell it, it smells rather concentrated.  It may be likened to dry fruit, walnuts, nuts -- and that’s partly due to the fact that it has been in wood for a long period of time, and it’s concentrated.  Tawnies tend to concentrate in flavor.  Port is an extremely versatile wine; it is probably the world’s most famous dessert wine.

DAVID DELAFORCE:  I think it’s probably the only wine in the world that really goes so perfectly with chocolate.  It’s very interesting that young, younger ruby ports actually don’t stand up to chocolate very well.  They don’t survive on their own with the chocolate.  So you want to get an older tawny port, like the one we’re drinking, or a vintage port, and that goes perfectly with the chocolate.  And then cheese is, I think, an obvious -- most people know about port and cheese.  Stilton and port is one of the oldest traditions.  And so a lovely blue stilton like this -- there is a habit, and it’s not really going to do the port or the stilton much good, of pouring port into it.  So we recommend cutting a piece of stilton, and having that with the port.

BURT WOLF:   I guess the best idea would be to decant and have it as dessert by itself and just knock it off in one sitting.

DAVID DELAFORCE:  That’s right.  If you’ve got a group of friends, I’m sure that the decanter would go around and be consumed fairly quickly.

BURT WOLF:   I’ll drink to that.

DAVID DELAFORCE:  Burt, I’ll drink to that too.

And after all the eating and drinking there is the possibility of fado -- epic songs filled with memories both sad and glorious.  The word fado comes from the word “faith,”  specifically a faith or hope that the destiny of the singer -- who was originally a sailor -- would eventually see his loved ones again.  It was, and still is very much an expression of the individual’s emotion.  And often the listeners are not paying as much attention to the specific words as much as they are searching within themselves for similar feelings.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Well, that is a very brief look at Portugal;  I hope you will join us next time as we travel around the world looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: Robert Burns Night, Scotland - #108

It was the year 80.  The tribes had been living in the hills of Scotland for over 5,000 years, but now there was a serious challenge to their independence.  The Roman emperor Hadrian and his army were marching into the countryside.  Hadrian had decided to subdue these troublesome people...  a task which he believed would be quite simple.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Not quite.  As Robert Burns, the great Scottish poet, pointed out about 1,700 years later, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go wrong.” The ancient Scots gave the ancient Romans so much trouble that eventually the Emperor decided to just forget about the whole thing.  And to help him forget, he built a wall -- a wall that ran for 73 miles across England. The Scots were on the north side, the Romans were on the south side, and the emperor tried to make believe that the Scots weren’t there.  But the Scots wouldn’t forget about the Romans.  They’d learned a valuable lesson about their own vulnerability.  And to protect themselves, they formed defensive clans, clans that were held together by blood ties, and eventually an appreciation of well-designed plaids. 

The next nine hundred years or so were spent making illuminated manuscripts, and fighting off the Vikings, Teutonic Knights, William the Conqueror, and of course, the English.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   It is true that a Treaty of Union was signed in 1707 bringing the English parliament together with the Scottish parliament, in order to form the United Kingdom.  But there are many Scotsmen and Scotswomen who believe that that is a deal in theory only.  And one of the first things that I noticed when I got to Scotland is that even though England and Scotland both have currency denominated in pounds, and they exchange that currency freely, the English pounds are issued by the Bank of England and the Scottish pounds by the banks of Scotland. 

This is Glamis Castle, a place where the complex history between the English and the Scots has been playing itself out since 1372.  The current Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain was born here; so was the Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret.  Shakespeare used this castle as the location for his play Macbeth.  Macbeth was a real person, but his life story was not quite the one that Shakespeare told.

BURT WOLF:   So what’s the real story with Macbeth?

SHONA THOMSON:  Well, he was a good king, Burt; he reigned between 1040 for about seventeen years [sic].  And so he wasn’t all bad; he lasted seventeen years. 

BURT WOLF:   So Shakespeare was not quite accurate. 

SHONA THOMSON:  No.  “Artistic Licence,” you might say.

BURT WOLF:   (in new location)  Thank you... wow.  Not exactly a breakfast nook.  What a room.

SHONA THOMSON:  Would you like to dine here?

BURT WOLF:   I certainly would --

SHONA THOMSON:  You can --

BURT WOLF:   -- but not by myself.

SHONA THOMSON:  Well, you could have thirty-six at the main table here, the family table, or we can take that away and have ninety.  So, whatever you wish.

BURT WOLF:   And the room is actually for rent. 

SHONA THOMSON:  It is indeed, yes, for our dinner parties.  It’s actually -- you’re now in the west wing of the castle, which was originally built in the seventeenth century.  The portraits at the end here are of the Queen Mother’s grandparents, and in 1903, they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.  And the estate tenants gave them a gift of this silver neff, or galleon on their golden wedding anniversary. ... [new location]  This room was used by the Earl and his family for afternoon tea, dining, entertaining their friends, and certainly the Lord’s retainers wouldn’t have been up here.  It was the Great Hall.

BURT WOLF:   With a live-in fireplace.

SHONA THOMSON:  Absolutely.  It’s actually very Scottish.  It has here the thistles on the left-hand side and the roses of England on the right, and it was to commemorate the union of the crown in 1603. 

BURT WOLF:   And the thistle is always a symbol of Scotland.

SHONA THOMSON:  Absolutely.

The castle piper is Stewart Robertson. The Scots are very serious about being very Scottish.  They have a great sense of their history and the uniqueness of their culture. 

STEWART ROBERTSON:  Well, the early history of the pipes actually originated in the Middle East, possibly Egypt.  And it’s only through a process of migration and invasion that civilization has moved westwards, that the pipes have actually come to Scotland.  They work on a quite basic principle; the bag here is a reservoir of air, which the piper inflates at the start and continues to top off as he progresses through the tune.  The air is then passed over the reeds; the chatter reed, which is here, where the melody’s played, the chatter, and also the drone reeds, which are here -- the bass drone here and the two tenor drones.  And that is the background tone you hear when the pipes are being played.  A lot of young players are coming through, and especially female players, which is a great thing, you know.  Boys and girls take up the pipes, and it’s been encouraged greatly throughout the schools.

Being Scottish is very much a part of daily life, but it is particularly pronounced during three annual celebrations.

JAMIE WILLIAMSON:  Happy New Year!

The Scots felt that Christmas was too much a creation of the Popes and therefore proceeded to write it off.  Their celebrating became focused on New Year’s Eve, which the Scots called Hogmanay.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The second annual gathering of the Scots takes place on St. Andrews’ Day, which falls on November 30th.  And though it is celebrated in Scotland, it has really become an important day for Scots living outside of Scotland.  They gather in cities all around the world and celebrate their Scottish heritage.

In Scotland itself, however, the great day for rejoicing in things Scottish is the birthday of Robert Burns.  Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland.  He was born in 1759 and his words have become familiar throughout the world.  Each New Year’s Eve millions of people join together and sing his words to “Auld Lang Syne.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And days o’ auld lang syne? 

“Auld lang syne” is Scottish dialect, and it means “long ago.”  Burns was reminding his countrymen not to forget their past.  He became a national hero because he celebrated the history and beliefs of Scotland at a time where everything Scottish were under attack by the British government. He celebrated the rights of the common man.  He celebrated their battle against the dishonesty of the official government and the corruption of the church.  And these days, everybody in Scotland celebrates the anniversary of his birthday, which takes place on January 25th. The celebration takes the form of a Burns Night dinner, and we’ve come to Scotland to take part in one.

Our very traditional Burns Night Dinner is taking place at Alvie House, by the village of Kincraig, near Kingussie, in Inverness-shire.  All of which is actually much easier to get to than it is to say.  Alvie House is an Edwardian shooting lodge set above a small loch in the Scottish Highlands.  A thirteen thousand acre estate surrounds the main house and offers all the sports that are dear to the Scotsman’s heart. Alvie House has been home to five generations of the Williamson family. These days a portion of the estate has been turned into a charming guest house under the direction of Jamie and Lyn Williamson.

BURT WOLF:   What does Robert Burns Night mean?

JAMIE WILLIAMSON:  He’s very important because Scotland started losing its identity; it amalgamated the parliaments in 1707.  And though there was a 1715 rebellion, with what we call “The Olde Pretender,” and then Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745... and so by the 1750s, when Robbie Burns was born, in 1759, I think it was, we were at a fairly low ebb.  The revolution had been put down, the 1745 rebellion had been put down, and we were losing our Scots identity.  Now, Robbie Burns did his poetry not in the English, but in the dialect of the southwest of Scotland, and really poked fun at the administration and some of the corruption.  And he really brought home the sort of culture , and though he probably wasn’t as popular when, by the time he died in about the turn of the century, I think it was 1796 he died, gradually, especially as people going abroad, he’s been remembered, and he’s the one thing that is very typically Scottish.

Scotland is not a country rich in farmland and its climate can be less than ideal in terms of growing seasons.  As a result, the history of its cooking illustrates the Scots’ skill at making a lot from a little.  Hundreds of miles of seashore, loch-front and riverside have given Scotland an ideal source of seafood.  Scotch salmon is world famous.  There’s great trout... haddock... and kippers.  Aberdeen Angus beef produces steaks that are outstanding. The Scots are devoted to recipes that are based on root vegetables like potatoes and turnips. The hunting season brings in venison, pheasant, hare and grouse.  Because of the intensity of the winters, Scots have a cuisine designed to produce a sense of inner warmth.  Lots of porridge. Thick soups.  Endless rounds of baking.  Scones. Oatcakes.  Shortbreads.

Lyn Williamson, amongst all her other responsibilities, is the head cook at Alvie House and she’s preparing our Burns Night menu.

LYN WILLIAMSON:  All right, we’re going to put together Cock-A-Leekie Soup, which is very much a Scottish favorite, all right?  And it’s really simple.  You just take a chicken, this is about a three pound chicken, all right, and this will feed about eight people, or a family for two days, because it reheats very well.  We just add the leeks, which we’ve cut up to about two millimetre thickness, including some of the green, because that adds flavor to the soup... put all that in... we’ve probably got a bit much... that’ll probably be enough.  I’ve made up a little bunch of herbs; it’s just fresh thyme, parsley and a bay leaf.  I’ve tied it together to make it easier to fish out later on.  Now I’m going to fill this with cold water, okay?  So perhaps if you’d pop round to the sink I could pass it over to you, and we just want the water just covering the chicken and the leeks. 

BURT WOLF:   Should do it...

LYN WILLIAMSON:  I would say that was perfect. 

BURT WOLF:   All right.

LYN WILLIAMSON:  Thank you, now we’ll pop it onto the fast one, the fast lane this time  [she’s referring to her stove, which has different preset temperatures].  Right, we’ll cover that with the lid, and we’ll just leave that for about two hours.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  After two hours of cooking, the chicken is taken out of the pot, its skin and bones discarded, and the tender meat put back into the soup.

LYN WILLIAMSON:  In bite-size pieces.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In bite-size pieces.

Some cooked bacon goes in, and some prunes are added.

LYN WILLIAMSON:  This dish is very much a family food, what you just put together for a family supper, or have friends in.

Dinner is ready and the guests are arriving.

[some party chatter; BURT is sipping a glass of Scotch with two guests]

BURT WOLF:   Now, I noticed that we don’t have any ice or water in ours.

SIMON SANDERS:  Well, I have water, and I noticed that you don’t.  And I was going to talk to you about that.

BURT WOLF:   Should I?

SIMON SANDERS:  Well, everything is a matter of preference, but I personally believe you should.  For me, it releases all the interesting bits of a blended Scotch whisky.  It releases all the aroma, all the bouquet.  If you drink it neat,  as we say, “neat,” you’re drinking forty percent alcohol.  That’s very strong, and that’s more than your palate is going to be able to cope with.  And it’s not going to be able to pull out of that strong alcohol all the fine bouquets and aromas that go to make Scotch whisky what it is.  So add a little water, half and half will do fine, and you’ll find it’s a much more rewarding and satisfying drink, and you’ll enjoy it even more.

BURT WOLF:   You’re absolutely right, I totally agree, and I didn’t know that.

SIMON SANDERS:  Cheers.

It’s not unusual to be attired formally for a Burns Night dinner in Scotland, but Scotland’s formal attire... well... that’s another thing.

BURT WOLF:   What are we wearing tonight?  Yours is slightly different than mine.

COLIN MacPHAIL:  The difference is, I’m wearing something that has a front, and it has a back as well.  What I’m wearing started out as a kilt; what you’re wearing is what it evolved into.  You’re wearing a kilt circa twentieth century, I’m wearing a kilt circa seventeenth century. 

BURT WOLF:   And it just started as one big piece of cloth?

COLIN MacPHAIL:  One big piece of cloth; it’s like a toga, it’s like a kimono... any culture starts off with a very basic piece of material they wrap themselves up in, and the Scots were the same.  They had a basic piece of material, and what they would do, is they would wake up in the morning, and they’d lay it out on the ground, and they’d pleat it and put their belt behind it, you’d lay down on that, you’d throw the belt up around, and you’d pull the material up, and you were dressed.

BURT WOLF:   And what’s in here?

COLIN MacPHAIL:  Okay, this is a sporin; in the old days there was a pouch worn usually at the side of the hip there, and what you kept in it was your oatmeal, or whatever it was that you were eating.

BURT WOLF:   Oh, it was a food pouch!

COLIN MacPHAIL:  Oh yeah, it was very, very basic.  I mean, there’s no pockets in all this.  Now it’s for keeping your small change in, and also positioned here for protecting your “small change” as well.

BURT WOLF:   [laughing]  I never thought about that.  Well, let’s go in to dinner.

COLIN MacPHAIL:  Okay.

JAMIE WILLIAMSON:  Welcome to Alvie.  Grace:  “Some ha’e meat and canno’ eat / And some would eat that want it / But we ha’e meat, and we can eat / And say the Lord be thanked.  Amen.”

[Dinner begins; various chatter.  Then the haggis is presented, and a guest gives a short speech in dialect in tribute to the haggis.]

The arrival of the main course is traditionally greeted by the dramatic recitation of a Robert Burns poem honoring the dish.

Very often the most important dish at a Scottish gathering will be the haggis; traditionally it involved stuffing meat, vegetables and grain into the stomach of an animal and then cooking it in a simmering liquid.  The word haggis comes from a verb that means “to hack” or “to mince,” as in minced pie.  It’s also the root that gave us the word hash, and a modern recipe for haggis is very similar to a modern recipe for hash.  Various parts of a lamb are minced and seasoned, but these days they are cooked in a sack rather than a stomach.

COLIN MacPHAIL:  Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for that bit of the Burns evening which we call the “Immortal Memory,” which involves someone who’s fairly terrified standing up and trying to do Burns justice.  I’d like to start off with a little poem which goes like this:

[he immediately launches into a fiercely dramatic recitation in Scottish dialect, then jumps right back to his own personality.]

Thank you.  I still today don’t know exactly what that means... but it impresses the hell out of American visitors if you can say it.  The last part that you have to do is you have to say... what shall we say?  Just Burns, I suppose.  To Robert Burns.

ALL:  Burns.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The Scottish have been distilling spirits for hundreds of years.  Nobody knows exactly when they got started, but there are records in the tax office that go back into the 1400s.  At the time, Scottish monks were distilling a spirit that had a big-deal reputation as a cure-all. Of course, they were drinking it for purely medicinal purposes.  They called it the “water of life.” In the Gaelic dialect, the name was “usquebaugh.” That sounded like “uishgi” to the English, who soon began to mispronounce it as “whisky.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   These days the Scots drink two types of whisky.  One is called “single malt,” the other is called “blended.”  The making of a single malt Scotch whisky starts with a process called malting.  Barley grain is mixed with water until it begins to germinate.  It literally starts to sprout.  After about two days of sprouting, the process is stopped by drying the barley.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The traditional way to dry the barley is with a fire that is at least in part fueled by peat. Peat is a local soil that comes from decomposed and concentrated plant life.  It is so thick that it can be cut and used very much the way we use coal. It adds a smoky flavor to the barley. 

The barley is then ground and sent off for mashing.  It’s mixed with warm water in a vessel called a mash tun.  After a while a liquid is drained off. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The liquid is called a wort and it’s packed with natural sugar that’s come out of the barley.  Yeast is added to the wort, which causes the sugar to convert to alcohol.  It’s called fermentation and it’s basically the same chemical process that’s used in making beer or wine.

The fermented liquid is transferred to a still.  A still is really just a giant teapot used to heat the liquid.  Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, so the alcohol turns to a vapor first.  It rises up to the top of the still, then turns down in a pipe, and is recondensed to liquid alcohol on the other side.  The distilled spirit goes into a cask.  By law, the whisky must mature in the cask for at least three years in order to be called Scotch.  In practice, however, serious Scotch makers can age their whisky in wood for considerably longer.  A single malt whisky is made in one distillery, exclusively from barley. It may come from a number of different casks and different ages, but always from the same distillery.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   During the late 1800s, a wine and spirits merchant by the name of Matthew Gloag began to develop a blended Scotch whisky.  He wanted it to appeal to the tastes of ladies and gentlemen who were coming up to Scotland to take part in the sporting activities. 

They liked to fish for salmon in the great Highland rivers.  They liked to hunt the famous grouse on the moors.  They liked to track the magnificent Scottish deer.  And hunt the famous grouse on the moors.  They liked to seek out the wild partridge... and hunt the famous grouse on the moors. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Matthew Gloag could see the emergence of a pattern and its related opportunity.  If he could come up with a Scotch that was a classic and call it The Famous Grouse, then all he had to do was get the English to drink it as well as shoot it.

He got his daughter to sketch the famous red grouse on the label, and in time The Famous Grouse became the most popular blended Scotch in Scotland. It still is.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The blenders at Matthew Gloag have a secret formula for The Famous Grouse, which includes over twenty different single malts, including Highland Park from Orkney, and whisky from the patent still.

JOHN RAMSEY:  A blender has a job of bringing together all the various single malt whiskies and their differences in flavor, putting them together into hopefully a mix that will be greater than the component parts; almost a synergy of flavors, overlaying that with some grain spirit, or grain whisky.  Grain whisky was introduced during the 1800s, and at that time was used very much as a dilutant for the very harsh malt flavors that were abundant at that time.  Nowadays the malt flavors are softer and mellower, but the grain is still used very much as a sort of foil to lift and support the complex malt flavors.  I believe you’ve been filming some of the works of Robert Burns, and I could quote from Robbie:  “Freedom and whisky gang together; take half your dram.”  Will you have a dram?

BURT WOLF:   I sure will.

And just for the record, a dram is not a specific unit of measurement.  It can be a half ounce or a half pint.  It’s all in the eyes of the pourer. 

BURT WOLF:   Slangivar!

JOHN RAMSEY:  Slangivar.  Your very good health.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Well, that’s a brief look at Scotland and their Robert Burns celebration.  I’m going to be sorry to leave Scotland; it’s quite a place.  But as Robert Burns said, in a somewhat different context:

Had we never loved so kindly,

Had we never loved so blindly,

Had we never met - and never parted,

We would never have been brokenhearted.

Which I guess means that it’s time for me to start travelling around the world again, taking a look at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I hope you’ll join me; I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: A Birthday Party at Disney World - #107

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): The first people  to make a really big deal out of the birthday were the ancient Romans. Each Roman had a favorite god.  Each god had their own temple. Every year on the anniversary of the opening day of that god’s temple, you held a birthday party.  Eventually the idea of a “favorite god” became a “patron god” -- somebody who was supposed to look after you and take care of you.  The patron god evolved into the guardian angel, and in the Christian world, the patron saint.  The Christians refused to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday as if he was a god.  And that became quite a problem.  It led to the earliest persecution of the Christians, and some of their first martyrs.  As a matter of fact, the Christians disliked the idea of celebrating birthdays in general.  They much preferred to celebrate a death.  Death was liberation, the beginning of eternity.

These days, however, it is the anniversary of someone’s birth that is celebrated and some birthdays are more important than others.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   However, as the number of older people in our society increases, the specific meaning given to a specific birthday has begun to change.  Everybody I know agrees that forty is much, much too young to be considered middle-aged.  Fewer and fewer people are retiring at 65. And many people continue working well into their seventies.  My own father worked five full days a week until he was eighty-seven.  Then he decided to cut back.  He worked three days a week for money, and two days for charity.

In Eastern societies it’s customary to note the number of years people have lived but not to bother very much about the actual day of birth for a specific person.  When the first moon of the New Year arrives, everybody in the society is considered to be one year older. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The idea of actually celebrating on the anniversary of the day on which you were born is a highly individualistic procedure.  The first thing you need to have is a society that keeps track of those days -- and that’s actually quite rare.  In the western world a church might mark down the baptism day, but very few people would come in to find out that day.  They didn’t care.  And in lots of societies it’s thought to be bad luck to actually count the years that you’ve been alive.

Modern society, however, is definitely into measuring and controlling.  It tries to strap a watch onto everyone’s wrist so they will be aware not only of their years, but to be able to note the passage of their life right down to a fraction of a second.  Governments and institutions love to control people by their age.  They’ll tell you when you can drive... when you can vote... they’ll tell you when you can take a bus at a discount rate...

they’ll even tell you when you can no longer order from the children’s menu.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Now, this business with the children’s menu is particularly significant to me.  First of all, these days I feel that the children’s portion is the only properly-sized portion.  And though I don’t have the guts to do it in a restaurant, when I’m alone in a room in a hotel I will often order from the children’s menu.  The idea of a giant, almost inedibly-sized portion of very fancy pasta with four different goat cheeses from organically-raised goats at $29.95 for the bowl just doesn’t cut it -- when I know I can get a perfectly good bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce off the children’s menu for three and a half bucks.

Birthdays are usually more important during the years of childhood than they are during adulthood.  And the location of the party takes on special significance.  One of the world’s favorite locations for a gathering or celebration is Orlando, in central Florida.  And the reason is very simple. Orlando is packed with attractions that were designed to bring people together for a special event.  And the history of how it came to be what it is, is rather interesting.

American settlers first came into this area during the middle of the 1800s.  Their primary occupation was raising cattle, and the place was very much like the frontier cowboy towns that we think of in connection with the American West. By the 1860s Orlando, like most of central Florida, had become an important location for cotton plantations. But that ended with The War Between The States.  In the 1870s, national magazines were filled with stories about the good weather and great farmland that could be found in the Orlando area.  Thousands of people immigrated here and turned the old cotton fields into citrus groves.  During The Second World War, Orlando became a major military center where thousands of U.S. servicemen did part of their hitch.  After the war, many of them returned to Orlando to make it their hometown.

Today Orlando has refurbished a number of its original attractions for tourists and they make a pleasant change from the major commercial developments.   One of the most charming is the Garden of Harry P. Leu, fifty acres of flowers that sit right in the center of a residential district.  Harry Leu was a local businessman who lived during the first half of the 1900s and spent over 25 years cultivating his love of flowering plants.  Leu and his wife, Mary Jane, traveled around the world collecting seeds and plants and bringing them back to their home here in Orlando.  There’s a rose garden with over 1,000 bushes in 75 varieties.  It’s the largest formal garden in the state.

One of the suburbs of Orlando is called Winter Park, and during the 1920s it became a favorite location for the winter homes of wealthy industrialists and socialites. In 1938 Captain Walt Meloon took a 25-passenger motorboat and started touring visitors along the waterways that faced these great homes.  And the tradition continues.

For a look at the Florida that attracted the original native tribes, you can spend a day at the Wekiwa Springs State Park -- six thousand, nine hundred acres of natural beauty.   Wekiwa is a Creek word that means “spring of water,” and that’s just about the first thing you see when you enter the area.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The first European to record his visit to Florida was a Spanish explorer by the name of Ponce de Leon.  He came wandering through in 1513 looking for the “Fountain Of Youth.”  He missed it.  He also missed the idea behind the Fountain Of Youth.  It’s not something that gonna make your body young again.  It’s a philosophy -- a way of looking at life.  And in a way, it does exist in Florida -- in a place called Walt Disney World.

WALT DISNEY FILM CLIP:  Today I want to share with you some of our ideas for Disney World...

Walt Disney wanted to give the residents of the Eastern part of the United States a chance to enjoy the entertainment ideas that had made Disneyland a major attraction in California.  In 1963 a Disney team selected central Florida as the best location.

Today Walt Disney World Resort is one of the world’s great entertainment destinations.  There are actually three major theme parks.  The first is the Magic Kingdom.

The next area to open to the public is called Epcot.

WALT DISNEY FILM CLIP:  ...spelled E-P-C-O-T.  “Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.”

Half of Epcot is given over to a look at the world’s future technology. 

The other half of Epcot is the World Showcase, areas devoted to the history and culture of eleven different nations.

And their most recent addition is the Disney-MGM Studios, a look at the illusions and realities of the world of moviemaking.

Magical... and taken all together, they make a great place to celebrate a birthday.

And in keeping with the feeling of the place, there are the Walt Disney World Dolphin and Swan resorts.  They sit between Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, and Disney’s Boardwalk.  There’s a private water launch to take you to the theme parks.  The hotels actually have a special arrangement that lets their guests enter Walt Disney World an hour before the areas open to the public.

There are three major themes that are being repeated throughout the property. Water... swans... and dolphins.  Through their ancient symbolism they tell the guests what the resort hopes to offer.  Water is one of the most important mystical elements.  Most of our planet is made up of water, and so are we.  We start our lives surrounded by water.  In many cultures water is the center of life, the symbol of the oasis.  A place to rest, to rediscover yourself.

And then there are the swans.  The ancient Greeks felt that swans had a god or king-like quality and associated them with the heavens.  In the stories of the Greek gods you often find a god or goddess descending to Earth in the form of a swan.  And they are always thought of as graceful and beautiful.

In the same way that the swan takes off from the water and goes to the world above, the dolphin moves from the surface of the water to the worlds below.  The ancients thought of them as transporters.  They were thought to have the ability to take people to other realms.  They are associated with great intelligence, and the most positive qualities of life.

Water, swans and dolphins... hard to come up with three better symbols for a resort. And you know, the really nice thing is, even if you never notice the ancient symbolism you still get to swim in the water, and have a pizza at the oasis.  And if you’d rather have something else rather than pizza... it’s your call.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The single most important aspect of a western birthday party is the focus on the person who is having the birthday, and getting that person what he or she wants.  If I were celebrating my birthday here, I would probably have a main course based on Florida seafood.

The waters off the coast of Florida have been a major source of seafood for thousands of years.  And when the Spanish arrived during the 1500s, they actually set up the first commercial fishing operations.  They supplied fish to the explorers.  These days, Florida fishermen harvest over one hundred different varieties of fin and shellfish.  Today Chef Waldo Brun of the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel is going to prepare a dish of Florida Grouper.  Low in fat.  High in quality protein.  And easy to cook.

He starts by trimming, cleaning and slicing a couple of fresh baby artichokes.  If artichokes are not in season, a jar of baby artichokes will do just as well.  A little salt and white pepper go on a filet of Florida grouper, followed by a light dusting of flour.  A little oil gets heated in a frying pan, and then the grouper goes in.

BURT WOLF:   It’s always a good idea to put a fish in skin side up, even if the skin has been taken off.  That will keep the fish from curling up when it hits the heat.

The fish cooks for two minutes on each side.  While that’s happening, the sauce gets started.  A quarter cup of chopped shallots go into a frying pan... followed by a clove of minced garlic... a tablespoon of fresh thyme... a half cup of sliced button mushrooms are added in... some pitted and sliced Mediterranean olives... a chopped tomato... and the artichoke slices.  A little salt and pepper goes in... followed by a couple of ounces of dry white wine.  A minute of cooking, and the sauce is ready.  The fish goes onto the serving plate... the sauce on top... and finally a garnish of sliced lemon.  And there you have it -- a super-duper Florida grouper.  

And to go along with that, Chef Brian Tossell at the Dolphin Hotel is making a Florida Tomato and Shittake Mushroom Salad.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Florida is a major producer of tomatoes, which are technically a fruit.  And like a number of other fruits, they are harvested at a point where they need a little additional time to ripen.  Pears, avocados and bananas are other examples of that type of fruit.  When you get a tomato home from the market, you do not want to put it in the refrigerator.

The best way to store a tomato is at room temperature, and keep the stem end up. The shoulders of the tomato are the most delicate part and they bruise easily.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  You also want to keep them out of the sun; sun can dry out the moisture in a tomato.  Over the next three to five days, they will continue to ripen, and the red, deep color will come up.

Back to the business at hand:  Brian begins his Florida tomato salad by preparing a parmesan cheese crisp.

BRIAN TOSSELL:  To make the parmesan crisp, all you do is you lightly grease the bottom of a baking sheet, and then you sprinkle the parmesan cheese.  You want to do it fairly loosely, so that some light shows through between the parmesan, so that when it melts, it causes a nice lattice effect.  After you’ve placed it on the sheet-pan like this, we’re going to take it over to a 425-degree oven.  That’ll take about two minutes in the oven, and you do need to peek once in a while because oven temperatures vary and, depending on the moisture in the cheese, it may melt a little faster and brown.  You want to catch it just as it starts to turn a little bit in color but not so that it’s starting to brown too much, because it’ll be too crisp and you won’t be able to take it off.  One of the things that frustrates people when they make these crisps is that they will start to break up on you as you lift if off the sheet-pan.  You’ll notice the middle will be soft, and as you start to bring in the edges, the edges will lift off fine, but the center will start to concertina together.  As long as you move along fairly quickly, then it’s not a big problem because you’re going to drape it over an object to create a cup shape.  So it will help with the presentation of the salad.

So while we’re waiting for the parmesan crisp to sit up, we’ll take a tomato that we’ve already peeled, and we’re going to cut into this Florida tomato.  We’re going to take out, actually about a third of the tomato.  And then just hollow out the inside.  I’m using a melon baller here; this works very well.  Also I’ll take this remaining piece of tomato, and I’m just going to dice it up like I did the other half of a tomato that we see in the dish here.  Then I just take two of the shittake mushroom caps, and we add that to the bowl also.  Okay.  Next we’re gonna add tarragon leaves; you only need about a teaspoon.

Now it’s time to make the dressing.  We simply add a teaspoon of dijon mustard, about one and a half teaspoons of freshly-squeezed lemon juice... a teaspoon of sugar... a dash of sesame oil, about a third of a teaspoon.

BURT WOLF:   Mmmmm -- nice idea!

BRIAN TOSSELL:  And then finally, there’s about a tablespoon of chives there.  Just blend this together, and now we’re ready to combine the ingredients.  We’re going to lift off the parmesan crisp -- it’s very delicate, so you have to be very careful.  Now we’re going to spoon the mixture into the tomato, and lastly we put on the borrage flowers.

BURT WOLF:   “Borrage?”

BRIAN TOSSELL:  These are borrage flowers, and they’re tiny little purple flowers; they have a slight anise flavor to them, but they’re very delicate and they compliment the dish very nicely and they add a nice splash of color, as you can see.

PARTY GUEST:  I’d like to propose a toast to Rebecca on her twenty-ninth birthday, wishing her happiness today and all the days to come. 

GUESTS:  Happy birthday (etc.)

There are two ideas being celebrated at a birthday party.  The first is the notion of measuring.  How old are you now?  How far have you come?  The second is the concept of initiation into something new.  Make a wish for your future.  Move on into the next stage of your life.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   I remember when I used to take my own children to the birthday parties of their friends, and I must say I remember those events with less than a total sense of joy.  Nevertheless, a birthday party is a celebration, a celebration of an initiation into a new stage of life.  And whenever you have an initiation, you have to have witnesses, people who watch you make that passage.  And who those witnesses are is very important.   It shows the power of the person making the passage, the power of the person having the birthday.  Or in the case of the children’s birthday, the power of the family.  Don’t you agree?

Everyone coming to an official birthday party must bring a gift; it’s an essential part of honoring the birthday person.  At children’s parties, the other guests will often receive little gifts, too.  Something about one child getting all the gifts appears to be more than many children can accept.  The unfairness of it all is just too much for them.  A little gift for everyone reduces the anxiety level.  It’s also a way of saying “thanks for coming.” 

There’s often a great deal of effort put into these parties.  These are in part payment for the presence of the all-important guests. The games that are played try to express the togetherness of the group.  They often involve numbers.  In some cultures, the child is playfully whacked for the number of years lived.  Whackings are a common part of initiation rites.

WAITER:  And, last but not least, we’ll be having the birthday cake.

The most important aspect of a western birthday party is the  birthday person.  And what goes on at the party should reflect that individual.  The birthday cake is a centerpiece of the ritual.  Traditionally there is one candle on the birthday cake for each year of a person’s life.  The flame on the candle is a symbol of life, but the candle, like life itself, only lasts for a limited time. 

PARTY GUEST:  Make a wish!

The person blowing out the candles is saying, “The years of my life represented by the candles are over and gone.  But!!!  I still have the breath of life in me.  I am in control. I can blow them away and start anew.”

Everybody joins in the appreciation of the birthday person. And there is a traditional song.  Very simple.  Very predictable.  And very easy for everyone to sing.  The person’s name or nickname is inserted into the lyrics and it works every time.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The music for “Happy Birthday To You” was written in 1893 by two sisters who lived in Louisville, Kentucky -- Mildred and Patty Hill.  And they held the first copyright.  The words were written in 1924 and added to the song, but nobody knows who wrote them.  “Happy Birthday To You” is the single most often sung song in the Anglo-Saxon world.

And then there are the birthday cards.  Each year Americans spend over one-point-five billion dollars on birthday cards.  Industry statistics say that women send an average of seventeen birthday cards each year,  while men send only ten... which is in keeping with the fact that most women are much more involved with keeping up social connections.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  One of the most unusual bits of information that I came across while researching birthdays had to do with a little-known service offered by the United States Federal Government.  If you are a citizen, you can contact your congressman or congresswoman and ask their office to have a flag flown on top of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. to honor someone’s birthday.  You shoulr give them about sixty days’ notice and there will be a charge of about fifteen dollars.  After the flag is flown, it will be sent to the honoree with a little note saying the day it was flown and the name of the person honored.  Not bad!   And speaking of honor, I hope you will honor us with your company during our next program as we travel around the world looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: A Formal Dinner Party in the Loire Valley - #106

The Loire is the longest river in France and people have been living on its banks since the Stone Age.  The ancient Romans had a number of settlements in the area, and during the 400s locals of importance began turning the old Roman buildings into fortified strongholds. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Members of an important local family would take up residence inside.  It became the agricultural center of the area and if the lord was important enough, he would mint the local currency here.  But the single most significant function of the structure was as a place where everybody could come and take refuge when the bad guys attacked.

The baddest of the bad guys were the Vikings, and they came through during the 800s.  Building a defensive tower was a right that had belonged only to the King, but the lords of the Loire decided to skip over that ruling and construct the strongest fortifications that they could.  Nothing like finding out that the Vikings would Soon Be Coming To A Neighborhood Near You to make you want to build a fortified tower.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  For hundreds of years, building yourself a defensive castle was the thing to do.  An expert would come along and help you design something that met your own very special needs.  Stone walls, high tower, reinforced turrets.  You needed a great hall, places for your soldiers and servants, storerooms, stables... You wanted all the basics in one building that was difficult to attack, yet easy to defend.

During the 1300s, however, things began to change.  Construction for conflict was becoming unimportant, while elements of comfort were becoming more important.  Less war meant more windows.  By the 1500s, sieges were out and sofas were in.  The fortified castle had become a French chateau.  Of course, you’d still build a moat now and then, but it was only there to reflect the beauty and elegance of your chateau.  By that point in the history of France, what kept people out of your castle was not a stone wall or a moat; what kept them out was their lack of status in your social set.

This is the Chateau Sully-sur-Loire.    It’s unusual because in it you can see the two distinct parts that illustrate the shift from conflict to comfort.  The older structure dates from the 1300s and was built as a fortress.  The wing that was added in the 1600s was clearly designed for pleasure.  The old section consists of three huge rooms that give you a snapshot of what life was like in the Middle Ages.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The real action took place in the giant halls. At the time, furniture was mostly made up of chests.  You stored things in them, and you sat on ‘em.  When it was time for a meal, trestles would come in, boards would go on top, cloth and service on top of the boards.  After the meals, the trestles and the boards would go away, and it became a sleeping area.  The Lord and his Lady may have had a private room but everybody else slept in the center... as many as twelve to a bed.  The twelve-to-a-bed thing wasn’t because they were such a close family -- it was about keeping warm.

The tapestries were also there to keep out the cold and to do a little room dividing.  The roof is considered to be one of the most valuable architectural elements of the period.  It’s over six hundred years old and was made in the shape of a boat’s keel.  The timbers that were used to make the roof were soaked for several months, then slowly dried, heated and bent.  I was told that it took fifty years to complete the process, but no one could tell me if the lord of the chateau had been warned in advance that the roof was gonna take fifty years or he just had a contractor that was running late.

And then there’s the 17th Century wing, which undoubtedly shows the influence of an early Martha Stewart.  Nice painted ceilings.  No more exposed construction.  Wood-paneled floors.  It’s a good thing.

The Loire was on its way to becoming the heartland of France.  For many years it was the center of the royal court, and when the court moved to Paris it still kept the Loire as its residence in the country.  As a matter of fact, when most people think about the traditional romantic beauty of a French village or the French countryside, the images that come to mind are pictures from the Loire.

This is the town of Gien, and it was built during the 1400s.  Almost everything about it, from the geometric pattern of the bricks used in the chateau... to the flower-lined streets... are typical of the Loire.  And this is Jean-Pierre Hurtiger, the Mayor.

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  The castle was built in the fourteenth century, and the daughter of Louis XI came here to live peacefully, because France was then going through another war, and she found the right place -- a quiet place, a peaceful place.

BURT WOLF:   It’s certainly that way now.

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  Yes, we try to keep it, even though we went through the last war, and the whole town was destroyed -- and a miracle happened at the castle.  After the bombing, a fire started, and a big storm, a rainstorm came down to stop the fire. 

BURT WOLF:   Somebody wanted it to be here.

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  That’s right; somebody wanted Gien to live peacefully.  That’s what we are trying to do still today, and I hope that everyone will come around to share peace with us.

BURT WOLF:   Oh, there’s a pharmacy; we can go in and have our mushrooms checked.

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  That’s right, we will go and ask the pharmacist if our mushrooms are the good ones.

BURT WOLF:   So whenever I pick mushrooms here, I can just go into the pharmacy, show him what I’ve picked, and they’ll tell me what’s good to eat and what’s dangerous.

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  That’s right, but --

BURT WOLF:   What a nice service!

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  -- how to double-check, because if they’re bad they won’t see you again.  [laughter]

BURT WOLF:   I wonder who the first person was that had the sense of adventure to pick and eat a mushroom?

JEAN-PIERRE HURTIGER:  I guess he picked the wrong one; that’s why we don’t know him.  [big laughter]

The Loire is where the great cooking of France got started.  It’s the place where many of the most classic of French dishes became part of the national cuisine, and eventually the cooking of many of the most respected restaurants around the world.  When you look at the menu of a traditional French restaurant in Paris, or London or New York, very often the dishes that are being described are dishes that began in the Loire.

For the most part, the recipes of this region produce straightforward, down-to-earth home cooking.  The talents of the cooks, however, have made the dishes famous.  One of their most traditional recipes is for noisette de porc aux pruneaux, roast pork with prunes. Simple idea, but when it’s done well it’s a knockout.

For centuries the noble families of France have come to this region to hunt. The woods are filled with wildlife. The Loire is clearly the national center for great game.  And the rivers supply top-quality fish. There’s pike and shad, fresh water salmon, carp, trout, eels, even crawfish.  The poultry is excellent and often prepared in what is called a fricasse.  The chicken is cut into parts and sautéed with an assortment of vegetables.  When it comes to baking, the specialties are fruit tarts and macaroons.

The Loire is also well-known for its charcuterie.  Charcuterie is a word that traditionally refers to prepared pork products.  But here it’s used to describe all sorts of sausages, cured meat recipes and pates

Many of the recipes include wine as an essential ingredient.  Coq au vin, chicken cooked in wine, which may well be the most widely-exported French recipe, is a specialty of the Loire.  Gerard Salle, one of the outstanding chefs of Paris, was born in the Loire, and regularly presents the traditional dishes of his native district.  Here’s his take on coq au vin.

Gerard starts by cutting a chicken into pieces that are all about the same size.  The uniformity of the chicken pieces makes life more convenient for each of the people at dinner, and it appeals to the French sense of justice.  After all, the national motto is “liberty, fraternity and equality.” If everyone gets an equal portion of free-range chicken the meal is more politically correct.  A little salt and pepper goes on and the chicken is set to rest in a deep-sided dish. 

Then a marinade goes on that is made from red wine, rosemary, bay leaves and celery leaves.  The chicken rests in the wine marinade for twenty-four hours.  At which point the cooking begins.

A few tablespoons of oil are heated in a saucepan.  The chicken pieces are removed from the marinade and placed into the pan, where they are browned on all sides.  That takes about ten minutes.   Then a few tablespoons of flour are added. The flour forms a liaison with the oil in the pan and becomes the basis for the sauce.  A little turning.  A little cooking, and the marinade is poured in.  Additional wine is added until all the ingredients are covered.  A cover goes on the pot, and it’s into a 375 degree oven for an hour. 

When it comes out of the oven, the chicken is transferred to a shiny copper sauté pan, which will become the serving dish that is brought to the table. Some sautéed baby onions are added, plus some sautéed mushrooms.  The sauce is poured on.   Finally, a few pieces of toast that have been cut into heart shapes have their tips dipped into the sauce and then into chopped parsley.  They are set, point side up, into the pan and everything is ready to serve.  Those little hearts, by the way, are purely optional.

Gerard is the executive chef at the Hotel Plaza Athenee, which is situated in the middle of Paris, on the Avenue Montagne, which is where many of the great fashion houses of France are located.  And the hotel itself is pretty fashionable.  It was originally opened in 1911 and has been able to maintain its classic beauty ever since.

The main restaurant is Le Regence.  It opened in 1937, and remains the place to see, be seen, and enjoy Gerard’s cooking -- which today includes a dessert of mini-savarin cakes with a vanilla sauce.

Two cups of flour are mixed together with two tablespoons of sugar and two eggs.  Two-thirds of a cup of milk, mixed with two teaspoons of active dry yeast, is blended in.  Then the batter is left to rest for twenty minutes.  At which point it is poured into mini savarin molds and set to rise for another hour.  Then they go into a three hundred and fifty degree Fahrenheit oven for fifteen minutes of baking.  When the savarins come out of the oven they go into a syrup, which is made from water, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, anise, coriander, orange peel, and lemon peel.  They soak there for thirty minutes.  Then the savarins are placed into individual soup bowls, a strip of vanilla bean is laid in, and then the syrup and a little ice cream.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   And finally, the Loire may be responsible for the high quality of the wines of France.  There’s an ancient legend about a local monastery where the young leaves of the vines were eaten by farm animals that had escaped from the stable.  The monks thought that the winery had been destroyed.  But the reality was that the next year, the vines that had lost the most leaves gave the best grapes.  The monks had discovered pruning. Or was it Divine Intervention?

The Loire river runs through France in a strip that covers over six hundred miles.  And from one end to the other, the hillsides that build up from the banks are used for the growing of wine grapes.  Most of those grapes are used to produce white wine.  In the middle of the district, in Touraine and Anjou, the winemakers make sweet wine.  At both ends of the region, the winemakers make dry wines -- Muscadet in the west, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume in the east.

This is the eastern winemaking area of Pouilly-Sur-Loire and, as you might expect, it has a Chateau.  In this case it is the Chateau du Nozet... a parcel of land that has been growing wine grapes for over six hundred years.  And since 1792 it has belonged to the family of Baron Patrick De Ladoucette.  Now, in North America we have a rather limited knowledge of royal titles.  We all know that Elvis is the King, Basie was a Count.  There was a Duke of Earl, and for a while we had Prince.  But I’m not quite sure what a Baron is.

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  Well, it depends on which days.  In the 1100s, when my family was first entitled, the title of Baron meant you were very close to the king.  Today it means a different story; it means you have been carrying along a very long tradition of nobility, and you must find a way to pass it through.  The way I found has been to try and make the best white wine in the world.

BURT WOLF:   You’d better -- your family name’s on every bottle.

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  That’s right.  So here we have been cultivating for centuries the savignon blanc, and this is the grape that we use to make our Ladoucette pouilly fume and sancerre.

BURT WOLF:   How do you know when to pick the grapes?

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  We do tests for about a month, and then we see the evolution of the sugars and the acidities, and when we have the best balance, then we start the crop.  Sugar is not everything.  If you are in a very, very warm climate, you will have the sugars all the time, but you will miss the acidity.  When you have a cooler climate, then you will miss sometimes some sugar, and you will have the right acidity.  So you always have to get to a compromise where you get to the best wine.  But also it depends which style of wine you want to do.  If you want to do a wine that’s very rich, very big, then with plenty of sun you’ll have it all the time.  But if you wanted to do something a little more subtle, which sometimes will have a little more finesse, then it’s a good balance between the acidity and the alcohol.  . . .  So there’s an interesting story about this staircase; it has been carved by our own people on the estate, as well as the stones come from the estate itself.  All the woods and the panellings and everything are in the same way -- they have been made from the woods from the estate and they have been panelled and carved by our own people as well.

BURT WOLF:   It’s a homemade chateau!

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  Yes, exactly, a make-it-yourself!

BURT WOLF:   Does it come in a little kit, with numbers...?

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  Yeah, “Number one, number two...”  So there are three floors, three main floors, and this staircase leads to seventy rooms.

BURT WOLF:   Do you know where all seventy are?

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  Oh yeah, sure.  Sure, because we’ve been restoring them over the years...   . . .  Burt, this is your room.  Take your time, relax.  Dinner will be at eight.

BURT WOLF:   Dinner at eight!

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  Relax.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Thank you.  Good -- because the real reason I came to the Chateau was to take a look at the rituals that are part of a formal dinner -- to find out what it is we do at a structured meal, and why we do it.  And this is definitely the place to take a look.

Patrick’s ancestors moved into this part of France at the time when the nobles were settling into the rituals that are now considered to be the standard for polite behavior at dinner.

At a formal meal, the host or hostess is expected to have a seating plan.  The precise position of each guest at the table should be marked with a card.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The kitchen at the Chateau du Nozet, like all kitchens of noble households constructed during this period, are far away from the dining room, downstairs.  As a result the food makes quite a trip to the table. 

When Louis XIV was King of France and living at his little place in Versailles, his food had to travel for a quarter of a mile to get from the kitchen to his table.  Covers were put on the dishes to help hold some of the warmth.  They were also on to help prevent anyone from adding a little poison during the trip. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The end result is that the poor king actually never had a hot meal.  Things, however, are better here -- it’s only fifty yards from the top of the stove to the top of the table.

The French royal court was not only a difficult place to get a hot meal -- it was a difficult place in general.  The king had gathered all the nobles into one spot and set up his own school of manners, and it had an amazing impact on everyone’s lifestyle.  In the same way that the designers of the chateaux shifted their interest from armies to amenities, the route to power amongst the nobles shifted from muscles to manners.  Combat was out, courtliness was in.  The king actually made table manners a political issue.     If he liked your manners, you got to sit next to him.  The tax collector would notice the power of your new seat and reduce his demands accordingly.  The importance of the new table manners spread throughout the noble houses of France, and eventually throughout Europe.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Now, whenever food comes to the table on a big tray like that, it’s gonna come from the left, because most people are right-handed.  And it’s a lot easier to reach with your right hand and put it there than to try and reach across to the other side.  It’s just... logic.

Wherever you look at a formal dinner, you see the influence of the French.  It was to the French Cardinal Richelieu, arch-enemy of The Three Musketeers, that we owe the blunt-ended table knife.  Richelieu saw a guest at one of his dinner parties picking his teeth with the point of a knife.  Richelieu was so upset by it that he ordered all the knives in his household to have their points ground down to a round end.  Eventually a law was passed making it illegal for French knife manufacturers to produce dinner knives with points.  The only exception was the “steak knife.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Up until the 1800s, formal meals were served in a style called a la francaise, “the French style.” It was the same system that had been used during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  When you got to the table, the food was already there -- an enormous amount had been laid down in the center of the table.  Meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, fruits, sweets -- everything you could imagine.  You took whatever you wanted.  After a while, it was cleared away, a new tablecloth was put on... and another round of food!  Same thing -- meat, fish, poultry, sweets, vegetables, fruits -- but different ones.  This went on for three or four courses.

Then in the early years of the 1800s, a Russian Prince by the name of Kourakin introduced an entirely new way of serving a formal dinner.  Everyone sat down at the table and the food was brought to them one course at a time.  It became known as feasting a la russe, “in the Russian style.” And it is that form that we are still using.  Service a la russe required lots of servants to handle the last minute prep and presentations and the rich liked that, but it deprived them of the pleasure of showing their great collections of valuable dishes.  They solved that problem with display areas against the walls of the room.  Nice touch.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  You’ll notice that everybody who lives in Europe is using their knife and their fork this way -- they hold their fork in their left hand and they keep it there.  They cut whatever they’re going to cut, with their right hand, and then they eat it with the fork in their left hand.  In the United States, we’ve done things differently.  We cut it, and then shift everything to our right hand, and eat it that way.  Well, that was the original way, and people did that until the 1860s, 70s, 80s.  And at that point, everybody became concerned about knives.  They didn’t like knives at the table, and they thought the less you used the knife, the more polite it was.  So they put the knife down as soon as they could, and switched the fork to their right hand because they were right-handed.  About 1880, the English decided that there was a better way to do that, and that would be to keep the fork in their left hand.  And the reason they did that is because it’s much harder to eat with your fork in your left hand; you have to kind of balance everything on the edge of the fork, and it’s backwards -- you’re not using it like a spoon.  That’s more difficult -- and we always think that the more difficult it is to do something, the more “mannerly” it is.  So the English started this, everybody in Europe accepted it, but the Americans said “No -- we’re sticking with the old way.  We’re gonna take the fork and shift it over to the right hand.”  And we never adjusted to the new system.  And this is the actual old way of eating.

The French word desservie means “to clear the table,” and that is where our word “dessert” comes from.  We clear the table and serve our sweet endings.

BARON PATRICK DE LADOUCETTE:  Ladies and gentlemen, I would like you to come with me for a little cup of coffee and a little cognac.

These days, when we rise from the table at the end of a meal we’re supposed to leave our napkins loosely folded on the table, never on the chair.  There’s an old European superstition that a guest who leaves his napkin on the chair will never come to dinner again.  The slightly unfolded napkin shows that you know that your host is going to wash the napkin before it is given to someone else to use.  If I folded it very neatly it would be a signal that I intended to stay for another meal.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   That’s a look at a formal dinner -- but it’s a modern formal dinner.  Two hundred years ago, when the Baron’s family first started giving formal dinners in this chateau, they were much more formal.  And the formality was used to keep people apart.  During the last two centuries, there has been a big move towards informality, in the hope that the informality will bring us all back together again.  It is a revolutionary idea -- even for France.  And for more revolutionary ideas, please join us next time as we travel around the world looking at Gatherings and Celebrations that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: A Family's Sunday Dinner in Friuli, Italy - #105

The district that covers the northeastern corner of Italy is known as Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.  The ancient Romans had a major outpost in the area.  At one point, after Attila The Hun helped bring down the Roman Empire, he spent a few years in the neighborhood perfecting his title as “the Scourge of God.”  He was followed by the Venetians and then the Austrians.

Agriculture has always been the primary occupation of the area.  It’s famous for asparagus, corn, fruit and wine.  Much of the region runs along the coast of the Adriatic Sea and the markets are well-supplied with seafood.  Melting snow in the mountains drains down into the sea and changes the salt and mineral content of the water.  And that’s had a positive effect on the types and flavors of the local seafood.  Some of the most tender and tastiest fish and shellfish have come from the northern part of the Adriatic Sea.  The mountains that cover over forty percent of the district add trout.  Cattle are kept on the mountain farms and a number of local cheeses are made from the milk.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  This has not been an easy place to live.  It requires a firm and strong constitution, and an appreciation and understanding of nature.  There’s a stoic attitude here that I often see in small farm communities.  In a way they’re saying:  “If this is the best land that the Almighty will give us, then we will use all our might to grow the best stuff on it that we can.”  The food that comes from an area like this is regional farm food; it’s simple and robust.  And you rarely find it in restaurants because it’s really home cooking.

And that’s why we came to Friuli -- to take a look at a traditional Sunday family meal.  Everything that goes on looks very simple -- but everything is also packed with ancient meaning.

This is Livio Felluga.  He is the fourth generation of his family to be producing wine.  He’s considered to be one of the fathers of Italian winemaking.  When the Italian government was choosing the wines for the heads of state that came to the Economic Summit in Venice, they served Livio’s whites.

Friuli has a long history of producing wine.  W